It's one of the oldest martial arts fables in the book.

A young hopeful with dreams is discovered by a venerable teacher, who passes on his knowledge in the arts of kung fu, ready for a contest against an impossibly mismatched foe. The difference with DreamWorks's new animation is that this time there is a lovable overweight panda involved.

From the start we are party to the panda's seemingly impossible dreams of being a kung fu warrior, through the beautifully rendered anime-style opening scenes.

In fact, Po the panda is working for his father's noodle stall in the tranquil Valley Of Peace. The closest he will ever get to the kung fu fighters Furious Five, whose images adorn his bedroom walls, is selling noodles at one of their tournaments.

Or so he thinks.

Oogway, the ancient kung fu master, has foreseen his old enemy Tai Lung will return to wreak havoc on the Valley, and so decides to appoint a Dragon Warrior to face him in battle.

No prizes for guessing who that turns out to be, and we are soon in the middle of a heart-warming, but never schmaltzy, tale about discovering your potential and never giving up.

As Po, Jack Black has the best lines as he battles with his hero-worship and tries to contain his vociferous appetite, while the animated panda character gurns charmingly through every mishap.

Equally good is Dustin Hoffman's sensei Master Shifu, who goes from a gruff and exasperated old bush baby to a caring and dedicated teacher.

There are plenty of stand-out scenes between the two, not least the final shot, but undoubtedly the highlight is the moment Shifu works out what motivates his new pupil, which is destined to be repeated at Chinese takeaways throughout the country.

As for the bad guy, snow leopard Tai Lung is menacing without being too scary, and seemingly unstoppable as he breaks through a garrison of 1,000 rhino guards at his remote prison.

Hearing rogue antique dealer Lovejoy's voice coming through that square jaw is a bit of a shock, but it doesn't detract from the action, as he faces off against the Furious Five on a precarious rope bridge in one memorable scene.

All in all it is an engrossing and beautifully animated romp set against a colourful Chinese-style background, with plenty of slapstick humour and action to entertain all ages.

Judging by the number of youngsters practising their moves outside the cinema, martial arts teachers across the country should be reaping the benefits for years to come.