After its short-lived “Father of the Pride,” DreamWorks has largely confined its TV efforts to adaptations of successful features, with reasonably impressive results. So following on “Penguins of Madagascar” comes another Nickelodeon series, “Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness,” which comes credibly close to the visual quality of the movies in action-filled half-hours. Premiering with a weeklong run behind “SpongeBob Squarepants” before moving to Fridays in December, it’s a formidable addition to Nick’s arsenal in kid TV’s frenetic battle to win the allegiance of boys.
Coming on the heels of two “Panda” features, the series doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. Instead, it follows the chubby, forever-hungry unlikely hero Po (voiced with an uncanny resemblance to Jack Black by Mick Wingert) and the rest of his martial-arts menagerie on various adventures.
In the two previewed episodes, that includes Po inadvertently destroying the group’s training facility — and triggering another crisis in his efforts to quietly fix it — and Po and Tigress (Kari Wahlgren) having to fend off crocodile bandits while handcuffed to each other, “The Defiant Ones”-style.
As for the differences between the series and the movies, younger tykes probably won’t even notice. OK, so the fur doesn’t ripple and the scale isn’t quite so spectacular; there’s still plenty of kung fu to keep moppets on the couch building up their own little panda paunches — and even a jaunty theme song.
In addition to Wingert, the voice cast does a fine job of seamlessly replicating the characters, with only Lucy Liu and James Hong reprising their film roles.
For DreamWorks, there’s obvious value in keeping franchises alive and maintaining contact with kids in the long stretches between movies, and the studio’s product (including the less-appealing “Penguins”) provides Nickelodeon a visually stimulating alternative to much of TV’s limited animation — one that ought to hold its own against fare courting the same pint-sized crowd on Cartoon Network, Disney XD and the Hub.
So as his grouchy master has a way of saying at the end of his various adventures: Well done, “Panda.