Kung Fu Panda’s Small Mercies


By all means, gather up the little ones and take them to this perfectly pleasant, very good-looking, modestly funny, dispiritingly unoriginal variant on the nerd-with-a-dream recipe that’s been clobbered to death in animated films for at least a decade now. Hectic as ever, Jack Black voices Po, a potbellied panda who’s stuck making noodles with dad (a goose—for reasons that escape me—voiced by James Hong), even though he lives and breathes kung fu trivia and longs to become a Master. The call comes from Dustin Hoffman as a pint-sized Zen guru, under whose grumpy tutelage Po and five other trainee critters with famous voices band together to save the world from a disgruntled snow leopard (Ian McShane). The movie’s design is striking, the colors are gorgeous, and the fight sequences are pretty suave—but the adorability quotient is set a little high for this jaded palate. And is there a child around the moviegoing globe who couldn’t lip-sync by now the smug sloganeering about following your bliss, playing to your strengths, and learning to be a mensch in good times and bad? Department of small mercies: For once, the moral voice (or “takeaway,” as it’s excruciatingly called in the production notes) comes more out of Buddhism than the Protestant work ethic. So we’re talking smash hit in Marin County and Dharamsala.