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‘Kung Fu Panda’ takes its action seriously

The last thing the martial-arts fans behind “Kung Fu Panda” wanted to do was make fun of the genre they were re-imagining for the animated world.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The last thing the martial-arts fans behind “Kung Fu Panda” wanted to do was make fun of the genre they were re-imagining for the animated world.

So while their leading guy is a tubby, klutzy panda with Jack Black’s voice, the filmmakers have delivered a real kung fu movie in the guise of a cartoon comedy.

Directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson said they intended their panda hero and his comrades — including a tiger (Angelina Jolie), a viper (Lucy Liu) and a monkey (Jackie Chan) — to be the animal-world equivalent of the Asian action warriors they admire.

“With the title, it would be easy to expect maybe a parody of kung fu films,” Stevenson said after a screening of “Kung Fu Panda” Tuesday night at ShoWest, an annual convention of theater owners.

“Everybody on the crew was a big martial-arts movie fan,” Stevenson said. “That was one of the reasons we didn’t want to do a parody, because we actually love those movies. They’re great movies. They’re sort of like Westerns, these great archetypal tales of good and evil and great emotion and heroism. So we wanted to honor that, not spoof it.”

Due in theaters June 6, “Kung Fu Panda” is the latest computer-generated production from DreamWorks Animation, whose films include the “Shrek” flicks, “Madagascar” and “Over the Hedge.”

Black provides the voice of Po, a panda in ancient China who idolizes the land’s kung fu heroes but is stuck toiling in his family’s noodle shop.

Fate lands the roly-poly panda an unexpected gig: He is declared the Dragon Warrior, destined to battle the evil snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane), who has escaped from a prison fortress seeking vengeance against his former martial-arts master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman).

Placed under the tutelage of the dubious Shifu, Po trains alongside five true kung fu masters: Jolie’s Tigress, Chan’s Monkey, Liu’s Viper, Seth Rogen’s Mantis and David Cross’ Crane.

While the movie is loaded with slapstick and wisecracks, the spirit is true to martial-arts epics that inspired the filmmakers, among them “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers.”

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The fight scenes are exaggerated for the animated world, but they are real action sequences, intense and often fierce. Even voice star Chan, one of Hollywood’s top martial-arts figures, was impressed.

“We thought early on about asking him to help consult and help us with our action, but he really deals with the physical world. He deals with bodies and props, so the virtual world was really foreign to him,” Osborne said.

“We kind of showed him some of our action when we recorded him, and he was really stunned by it. He was like, ‘Wow, this is cool. You’re doing stuff that we can’t ever do.’ I think it was really fun for him to see something that was so different but really a tribute at the same time to real kung fu. ... He may have been saying that for our benefit, but he was very, very kind.”