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Animated Feature 'Kung Fu Panda' Blends Martial Arts, Talking Animals

A world of martial arts warriors that happen to be talking animals comes to life in a new family feature from DreamWorks Animation with a voice cast that includes comic actor Jack Black and Oscar-winners Dustin Hoffman and Angelina Jolie. Alan Silverman has a look at Kung Fu Panda.

A portly panda named Po hardly seems to have the makings of a great champion. He seems far better suited to his day job, cooking in his father's noodle shop. However, fate lands him right in the middle of the celebrated "Furious Five" kung fu fighters just as their spiritual leader is about to select one to fulfill an ancient prophecy.

Now it falls to their Kung Fu teacher, the great Shi Fu, to shape Po up.

Popular comic actor Jack Black stars as the voice of Po.

"I did not do any real panda research because, you know, it's a kids' movie and I was basically just being me," Black says.

No stranger to voice-acting for animation, Black's characters include the vegetarian predator Lenny in "Shark Tale." Typically the actors record their performances separately, but Black says he and co-star Dustin Hoffman actually shared the studio for some scenes in Kung Fu Panda.

" 'Dusty' and I worked together ...and I can call him Dusty now; we've gotten to that point," Black jokes. "I was intimidated because I've been a huge fan of his for my whole life, it seems, and it was cool to get tips from him ...acting tips. He is the master for real."

Hoffman is the voice of kung fu master Shi Fu and says he was pleasantly surprised that the film, while filled with fantastical martial arts prowess, also displays the traditions and philosophy.

"There is an underbelly ...a kind of a spiritual side to it that surprised me," Hoffman says. "I come from a generation that sees these things as cartoons, which is almost a pejorative today call these things cartoons ...because they are in their infancy of being their own art form."

"Animation has just grown and changed in the last few years and the stories are so good," adds Angelina Jolie. "The stories in these animated movies are often better than a lot of the scripts out there."

The voice cast also includes Jolie as Tigress, a key member of the 'Furious Five.'

"There are some beautiful messages in it and really fun characters and there's a sweetness to it," she says. " (Also) where it is set is absolutely beautiful. I love that part of the world. I have two children from Asia so the fact that I get to be in "Kung Fu Panda," set in China, as a tiger's so cool."

One of China's greatest movie stars, Jackie Chan, does the voice of the playful, but skillful, Monkey; and he is pleased that a Hollywood studio film portrays the traditions and culture of his homeland.

"I love to see non-Chinese making a Chinese movie know, the Chinese culture in a movie," Chan says. "It really helps our culture to speak out and I hope (in the) future they can make Kung Fu Panda Two. If they need more locations, they can come to China to draw on and introduce China's culture."

Kung Fu Panda also features voice acting by Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, Ian McShane and Randall Duk Kim. The screenplay is by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger; and the film's co-directors are John Stevenson and Mark Osborne.