Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

           

Featuring the Voices of:  Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, James Hong, Michelle Yeoh, Danny McBride, Dennis Haysbert, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Victor Garber, Lauren Tom, Paul Mazursky.
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Director:  Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Rating:  PG
Running Time:  90 Mins.
Release Date:  May 26, 2011
Home Video Date:  TBD
Box Office: $165.2 Million
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DreamWorks Animation and Paramount Pictures.

Written by:  Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger; based on characters they created with Ethan Rieff and Cyrus Voris for the film, “Kung Fu Panda”.

“This…could be the end of kung fu…” – Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). 

After the massive international success of 2008′s “Kung Fu Panda”, the whimsical and heartfelt children’s action film cemented its foothold as a franchise-to-be for years to come.  Featuring the lovable panda bear named Po (Jack Black), who learns the ways of kung fu, forms an alliance with other animals known as The Furious Five, and ultimately vanquishes an evil snow leopard, “Kung Fu Panda” was a box office phenomenon and grossed more than $631 million worldwide.  For the sequel, Po has attained the status of Dragon Warrior; but faces foes of both a physical and psychological nature as he attempts to keep The Valley Of Peace calm and serene.

Dogged by a recurring dream/nightmare in which he sees a particular eye-like image, Po starts to question how he came to the Valley and how as a giant panda bear, his father is a goose.  When Po learns from his father that he was in fact adopted he seeks answers to the questions about his birth and what happened to his parents.  Seeing reminders everywhere he goes, Po starts to become obsessed with a new emotional journey.

Enter Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), a descendant of a notorious peacock clan who has vowed to take over all of China, destroy The Valley Of Peace, and eliminate kung fu entirely.  Po is game for the battle, as are his Furious Five members – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross).  Soon it becomes apparent that Lord Shen is a formidable foe.  He arrives not only with metallic talons but a deadly cannon he intends to use to destroy the Valley.  As battle lines are drawn, Po must look from within to lead his team and save not only kung fu, but all of China as well.

“Kung Fu Panda 2″ sounds much more intense and harrowing than it truly is.  The film is a rather quick and easy watch.  The issues Po attempts to sort out involving his missing parents, his adoption, and the sordid history of the peacock clan and their attempted eradication of the panda bear population, is glossed over rather effectively.  Much of the film’s plot and story is unevenly distributed at the outset of the film and humor and adventure occupy much of the final 75 minutes or so.

The film may weeble and wobble but it does not fall down.  Jack Black is again tremendously entertaining as Po, turning in an impressive vocal performance and carrying the film with subtle inflections, frequently funny ad-libs, and an endearing likability with his character.  Gary Oldman is equally impressive as Lord Shen, the peacock descendant who balances a genealogy of anger and despair with the right dose of maniacal villany.  In fact, much of the voice work is well delivered with Angelina Jolie blending in unobtrusively as Tigress, Po’s right-hand counterpart, and Dustin Hoffman and James Hong are again fun as Po’s spiritual advisor, Master Shifu and Po’s gander father, Mr. Ping, respectively.

With this sequel, and likewise from the first film, the thing I take away from “Kung Fu Panda” is the beautiful animation which occupies nearly every shot.  If you ever get bored with Po’s antics or the melodrama of the kung fu storyline, take a look at the backgrounds, the attention to detail, the depth of hue and tone.  What really resonates with this film is how different forms of mixed animation styles are woven in to the visual presentation.  One sequence in particular involving paper-style animation is simply beautiful to behold.

Acknowledging that the core story is rather thin and front-loaded to the beginning minutes of “Kung Fu Panda 2″, the movie holds up alright.  The film zips along at such a quick pace that the characters’ decisions and motivations may not make complete sense, but the voice work and technical proficiency on display help things through the murkier elements of the storyline.

“Kung Fu Panda 2″ is a notch below the first film certainly, but for the younger viewers seeing Po and the Furious Five for the first time or revisiting them a second time, expect 90 carefree minutes of entertainment without pandering to its audience.  The film is good, nothing more and nothing less.  Sometimes it should be just as simple as that.

SHOULD I SEE IT?

YES

This is a film that will deliver something for everyone to enjoy.  Silly humor, efficient and impressively animated action scenes, and a reach for the heartstrings all are found in this sequel.

Jack Black reminds us that he possesses tremendous comedic timing and his vocal work of Po is again tremendous.

Not enough credit is given to what a joy this film is to watch and take in.  Skip the 3D, it mutes and dims the vibrant and vivid colors on display.

NO  

So, as fun as this is at moments, there is some uncomfortable themes present and mostly at the beginning.  If you attend with younger viewers and they catch on that the peacocks slaughtered the panda bears in ancient mythical China, and that Po was abandoned as a baby, you may have questions to answer from them that this film chooses to skirt over.

Other than the mixed media animation moments, this is very predictable and as a result may lose older viewers.

If you do not want your children to watch kung fu martial artist anthropomorphic animated animals engaging in fight sequences and epic battles, then this may not be the film for you or your children.