The fun of Kung Fu Panda (2008) is the animation and the palette of colors used to depict the stylized Chinese landscape where the story takes place. There is nothing remarkable about the story itself, which involves a panda bear named Po (voiced by Jack Black) who has always dreamed of becoming a kung fu master. (His father, a duck, wants him to take over the family noodle business). Through an improbable series of events, Po is anointed as the next Master of the Golden Scroll, and he is trained for the role by Master Shifu (a red panda voiced by Dustin Hoffman). Five kung fu warriors—a tiger, snake, praying mantis, crane, and monkey—all trained by Master Shifu—also figure into the tale. Together with Po they must defeat an evil kung fu warrior, a leopard named Tai Lung who is intent on destroying the Valley of Peace in which the characters live. TaI Lung also wants to find the secret of the Dragon Scroll, which is supposed to give him universal powers.
The secret of the Dragon Scroll is simple: you have to believe in yourself. This seems to be the standard theme in many animated Dreamworks and Disney features—believe in yourself and everything will work out. The theme works well enough here.
Kung Fu Panda might be criticized for its appropriation of Chinese legend and its depiction of racial stereotypes. But the stereotypes are hardly there, and if anything the film pays tribute to the tradition it borrows from. The animation is beautiful and creative, and the film is a pleasure to watch.