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Kung Fu Panda

Year: 2008
Studio: Dreamworks Animation
Director: Mark Osbourne/John Stevenson
Cast: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, Ian McShane, James Hong, Randall Duk Kim, Dan Fogler, Michael Clarke Duncan, Wayne Knight
Everything else is just set dressing for me; the great CG animation, the action, the gags. What got me was the message. Every family-friendly blockbuster has a corny message about being yourself, anyone can win if they try, etc etc. It's a moral compass lifted straight out of the Disney channel and slotted neatly into the thread of the narrative on which the gags and visuals are hung in any movie of this ilk.

But this one seemed more astute than most, and whether it was just that I responded to it (I mean, obviously that's the reason) or it was cleverer than all the other Hallmark sentiments you have to endure whenever you see a kids' movie, I can never be sure as we only ever respond to things from our own experience.

But the Panda, Po (Black) was never too clever, strong or outstanding in anything. He comes from humble stock and doesn't have any more prospects than any other everyday schmoe in the world. He grows up dreaming of being something and looking at the flashy, heroic types, imagining the mysterious magical quality they've been born with that makes them what they are.

But the plot device of his father's special soup is a neat metaphor. At a critical juncture of the story his father reveals the secret ingredient that has always made the soup such a hit - nothing. People have believed it was special, Po himself believed it was special, but it turns out it didn't need any special ingredient other than people believing in this magical quality that isn't really there.

The moral lesson? You have no magical ingredient, and all the people whose lives you wish you had and all the dreams you dream about that other people are living have none either. You can make it the same as they can, if only you believe...

The fact that an animated kids movie can touch a terminal cynic like me is enough to make me want a psychiatrist, so I'll dismiss everything else about the movie in an appropriately superior manner - the flashy, camera-swirling visuals of the fight and chase scenes, the big name stars voicing the jokey characters and the clever way the casting matches them.

Po is a clumsy, overeating panda who dreams of becoming the new student of a Kung Fu master in the shape of a small rat-like thing (Hoffman). Once accepted by the wisened old patriarchal turtle of the kung fu order who can see the potential in Po, everybody expect him to quit - from his new trainer to his brothers-in-arms, a collection of sharply honed kung fu fighting animals including a tiger, praying mantis, snake and a monkey.

When an evil former student of the clan breaks out of his prison across the country seeking revenge, the race is one to train Po to join the band of his intended defeaters, and of course it all comes down to him in true Hollywood style.

Everyone seemed to have fun, and you will too.

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