Review: 'Kung Fu Panda 2' is a New Sequel that Delivers in Every Way
by Jeremy Kirk
May 27, 2011
Bigger. Funnier. Better action. Faster paced. More prominent heart in the story. By every account imaginable, DreamWorks Animation's new animated movie, Kung Fu Panda 2, is a superior film to its predecessor. What began as a light-hearted, martial arts romp with gloriously crafted CG creatures has turned everything up to their brightest points, and what is delivered is a wonderfully entertaining and heart-warming movie that will make everyone in the audience provide their own hearty "skadoosh". That might be trademarked. Just don't say anything to Jack Black.
Taking the helm this time around is Jennifer Yuh, first-time feature film director who has worked as a storyboard artist for projects like the HBO "Spawn" series and 1998's Dark City. But don't let those darker works sway you. The central character, Po, isn't clad in black leather or taking his enemies out with well-placed neck-breaks. Instead, Yuh brings her precision in animation to Kung Fu Panda 2, makes everything a bit more fast-paced, and delivers some staggering visuals to accompany returning writers' Glenn Berger and Jonathan Aibel's top-notch screenplay.
Black once again provides vocals for the panda, Po, the Dragon Warrior, continuing his training alongside the Furious Five. But a new menace has entered the land. Lord Shen, voiced by Gary Oldman, a nefarious peacock who was once banished for crimes that will at this point be unrevealed. Shen has returned, and with his army of wolves and newly discovered principles of gunpowder, plans to rule the land. It's a fairly simple follow-up to 2008's Kung Fu Panda. The origin story is over, and it's time for the next story involving Po and the Furious Five. But instead of feeling like a one-off adventure with little stakes, Berger and Aibel work in a growing back-story for our hero. Told through broken memories, we as well as Po begin to learn more about his childhood and how he came to be under the care of the goose, Mr. Ping.
But Aibel and Berger handle this back story with elegance and care. There aren't massive information dumps from characters that feel unnatural and break up any momentum the film may have going for it. Instead, the action involved in Kung Fu Panda 2 brings the flashbacks out of Po's subconscious, forces him to face his childhood demons, and allows the main character to grow as the story progresses. It feels organic, and, accompanied by the stellar action they've concocted with Yuh directing, it firmly holds the audience's interest.
Po's story is once again at the forefront of the narrative here, and it combined with how quickly paced the movie is denies Kung Fu Panda 2's secondary characters from any depth. We learn the tiniest bit about Tigress, voiced by Angelina Jolie, and much of that is even insinuated rather than explained. Dustin Hoffman returns as Master Shifu, but he disappears for a long stretch of the film. The remaining members of the Furious Five aren't given any weight and only serve in helping Po dispatch the wolf army in exciting, clever, and fun-filled ways.
This ends up being another benefit to Kung Fu Panda 2's pacing. The action is so whip-fast and the set pieces come with such rapidity that you don't have much time to realize you aren't being given much in the way of side character arcs. It's really only after the fists and hilarity subside during the movie's end credits that you begin to realize you didn't learn anything about the monkey voiced by Jackie Chan or the praying mantis voiced by Seth Rogen. These characters always do a fine job serving the comedy, and every one of them - David Cross as Crane and Lucy Liu as Viper to round out the five - has their own respective moment to shine in the comedy department. That comes from the voices. The brilliance in the animation of each character and the fluidity with which they are created during the more fast-paced moments is the genius that comes from this movie's extraordinary animators.
And more than just a rapidity, the action in Kung Fu Panda 2 feels epic-scaled. From giant buildings that toppling over to vast armadas of Lord Shen's ships, the imagery in this movie is on such a grand scale that it feels like a summer blockbuster. Kung Fu Panda 2 looks like and has the sense of an expensive movie even if they're using the same 1s & 0s for a blade of grass or to create massive statues and landscapes.
The third improvement in Kung Fu Panda 2 is in its heart. Much of this stems from Po's childhood and the secret Lord Shen holds regarding it. However, much more so than in Kung Fu Panda, the connection between Po and Mr. Ping comes to a perfect fruition. The idea that Mr. Ping was a goose and Po was a panda served little more in Kung Fu Panda than a clever joke. Here, it becomes a main point of the story, and where it goes is tender and genuine. The theater where you're seeing the movie may get a little dusty from time to time, but, it's okay, the 3D glasses will cover any tears you might shed.
Kung Fu Panda 2 truly delivers everything you would want from an animated feature. Colorful and interesting characters. Moments of guffawing hilarity. Enormous heart. Immersible action set pieces that couldn't possibly have been duplicated in a live-action environment. And it all moves with a fleetness that would even make a Black Belt do a double take. Kung Fu Panda 2 ends with a beat that, although it feels a bit tacked on, that opens the doorway for yet another adventure. However, with this team on-board for this one, it's another adventure that will be gladly welcomed. Skadoosh!
Jeremy's Rating: 9 out of 10