Dreamworks Animation LLC.
At the completion of his training, Po (Jack Black) receives the legendary Dragon Scroll in DreamWorks' new movie "Kung Fu Panda."
KUNG FU PANDA — *** — Animated feature starring the voices of Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman and others; rated PG (violence, mild vulgarity).

"Kung Fu Panda" follows the typical, expected animated-feature formula, one in which cartoon animals do silly things for laughs.

Surprisingly, that somewhat tired formula works quite well here. It's a goofy and mostly good-natured comedy, even though it is a little violent for a kids' movie.

And while the movie might not be as artistic as, say, one from Disney-Pixar, it features better combat scenes than much of its live-action brethren — including the recent "Forbidden Kingdom."

Better yet, by running a little less than 90 minutes, it doesn't overstay its welcome.

The title character is Po, a clumsy, roly-poly panda voiced by Jack Black. He's expected to inherit the noodle-restaurant business that's run by his father, Mr. Ping (the voice of veteran character actor James Hong).

But Po is secretly a martial-arts fan, especially of the Furious Five, highly trained fighters who just happen to be a snake, crane, monkey, praying mantis and tiger.

One of them is expected to become the Dragon Warrior, a legendary fighter who is responsible for protecting the Valley of Peace. Instead, Po is selected.

That decision isn't a popular one. Even Master Shizu (Dustin Hoffman), who is supposed to train Po, doesn't believe in him.

However, he may not have any choice in the matter. The evil Tai Lung (Ian McShane) has escaped from his prison and is now making his way to the Valley of Peace. Tai Lung seeks revenge — on Shizu, his former mentor and friend.

"Kung Fu Panda" comes from the creative people responsible for episodes of TV's "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "King of the Hill."

It boasts a good voice cast as well — among those providing voices for the Furious Five are Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan and comedian David Cross.

And the animation is first-rate. That includes an opening sequence done in a faux-paper cut style — one that resembles both "Mulan" and the television cartoon "Samurai Jack."

As for Black, he can be an irritant when he's riffing and improvising. But this script forces him to be more disciplined, and this is one of the more endearing characters he's played. Black and Hoffman play off each other nicely.

"Kung Fu Panda" is rated PG for scenes of animated violence (martial-arts battles, arrow fire, moments of peril and some slapstick), as well as some mildly vulgar digestive humor and references. Running time: 88 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com