It seems like only yesterday that we were first blessed with the butt kicking Panda named Po. It’s been a long three years and although the awesomeness takes a while to reveal itself, Kung Fu Panda 2 fights its most difficult villain: the temptation to be like the original.
Po (Jack Black), the cuddly Kung Fu master is back with the his idols the Furious Five (don’t ask why they’re not the Furious Six). This time they have to battle a threat that not only threatens the existence of Kung Fu, but also the fate of China. Many miles away, Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), an exiled peacock from a royal family, returns to his kingdom to reclaim his place on the throne by any means necessary. Along with his evil animal minions is a weapon of mass destruction that spits fire which threatens the balance of power in the land ruled by Kung Fu.
These developments aren’t lost on Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), the sagely mentor to Po. With their way of life and a little thing like peace at stake, he dispatches the Furious Five to take down Shen and destroy his weapon. Oh, and he also tells Po to try to master a little something called inner peace to which Po responds “My innards are already super-peaceful”.
Those innards are in for some turmoil as Po is left in a daze whenever he sees Lord Shen’s feather emblem. Luckily, he’s got friends to save him like Tigress (Angelina Jolie), who reminds him to keep his head in the game and to follow his heart. His personal quest to find out what hold the emblem has on him leads to asking his overprotective goose father Mr. Ping (James Hong) where he came from.
The most entertaining animated films are the ones that take the stance that they are films…that just happen to be animated. It’s a credo certainly not lost on the director. Jennifer Yuh Nelson, the head of story on the first Kung Fu Panda, gets to sit in the director’s chair for the sequel and leaves an artistic mark.
Just as Po seeks inner balance, Nelson strikes just the right amount of kid friendly silliness and animated physicality to keep the rapid eye movement onscreen for the small ones while still being dramatic enough for those big enough to drive home. The 3D is smooth with an attention to detail from battleships to the beautiful cut-out shadow puppets in the opening titles.
The writing team of Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger return for the sequel and although there aren’t as many laughs as the first, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a richer story with a keen eye towards storytelling (and setting up a sequel or two). The near chopsocky action plays second fiddle to the Po’s origin, which, let’s face it, is a must have for every hero. The screenplay has just enough humor, cinematic plants and emotional manipulation to wonder if the two King of the Hill veterans don’t have any live action works in the future.
Although the Furious Five – Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross) are with Po as he travels by land and sea to face the evil Lord Shen, the one shortcoming of the film is that there’s just not enough of them. Hopefully, that’s an oversight that doesn’t follow them into the sequel, because when they get lines, it’s definitely worth it. Speaking of sequel, don’t leave the theater early. Not only will you cheat yourself out of seeing stunning end credits, but there’s also a tease that’s as good as anything from Marvel. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Kung Fu Panda 2 strikes hard and lands a winning blow. One of 2011’s best animated films (at least thus far), the film offers entertainment both for kids and adults and will surely be enjoyed by both. The story has heart and is more involving than the first, the characters are enjoyable and humorous, and visually, the film is a real treat for the eyes. Big action set pieces are driven by a high level of energy and it all moves along at a perfect pace, culminating in an utterly enjoyable film. Do yourself a favor and run, not walk to see this one, you won’t be disappointed.