Film Review: “Kung Fu Panda 2”

by Jason LeRoy on May 25, 2011

featuring the voices of: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michelle Yeoh, Dennis Haysbert, Victor Garber, Paul Mazursky, James Hong

written by: Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger

directed by: Jennifer Yuh

MPAA: Rated PG for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence.

Since its first film in 1998, DreamWorks Animation has produced a fairly consistent, generally entertaining roster of titles providing options for those who prefer to watch animated films without being provoked into hysterical sobbing jags (Pixar, ahem). But they have also been guilty of rushing sequels into production at even the slightest glimmer of success. If a DreamWorks Animation film doesn’t get a sequel, that film should feel gravely insulted. And so, it should come as no surprise that 2008’s runaway hit Kung Fu Panda, arguably their most popular original film since Shrek, is now revisiting its characters in Kung Fu Panda 2.

As the film begins, Po (Jack Black) is still basking in the glory of his newfound destiny as the Dragon Warrior, training and patrolling with the Furious Five. But there are yet further lessons for him to learn from Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), such as the discipline of inner peace. And that training will soon be tested by Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), an exiled peacock royal with a lethal anti-panda vendetta because his family’s soothsaying goat (Michelle Yeoh) predicted he would one day be defeated by something with black and white colors. I just reread that sentence, and it’s good for a chuckle. And, as in any good sequel, it turns out this new villain is the key to unlocking Po’s previously unknown, rather Moses-like origin story.

After a clumsy exposition, Kung Fu Panda 2 giddily cannonballs directly into what the original did best: combine electrifying action sequences with sight gags and deadpan humor. In this sense, it is very successful. The action goods are unquestionably delivered, with one dizzying fight sequence/chase scene after another. And while not all the jokes land, the ones that do are uproarious. The animation is remarkable, with details like wet fur rendered unbelievably lifelike. And it even looks pretty decent in 3D, which I am always hesitant to compliment. I’m starting to think 3D should be exclusively reserved for animated films and novelty titles like Piranha 3D.

The animation is supported by an able cast of voice actors, although I feel like Jack Black forever tainted his paycheck-driven acting career with his too-honest work in Tropic Thunder. Now whenever he does a project like this or Gulliver’s Travels or Year One, I just picture him white-knuckling it through the production for drug money. It wouldn’t hurt him to take a part in a more character-driven film instead of studio comedy after studio comedy, lest he become the white Eddie Murphy. Another distraction in the film is the rather comical sight of a kung fu-fighting peacock, but damned if I wasn’t terrified of that Oldman-voiced tyrant by the end.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is fast, funny, and even moving. It is destined to please fans of the original, while also practically unfurling a banner announcing Kung Fu Panda 3 in its final moments. And though it makes me feel like an old man to say this, I must applaud any movie subversively teaching children about the value of discipline. Kids these days, amiright?

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

jen May 25, 2011 at 4:15 pm

you had me at soothsaying goat.

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