- Movie Rating -

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

| May 25, 2011 | 0 Comments

Kung Fu Panda 2 is a joyful, glorious animated adventure, fast moving, quick-witted, and a lot more fun then I had expected. The animation is crisp and beautiful – more-so in lovely 2D – and clearly shows the advances of the art form. Here is a movie that isn’t simply a clone stamp of the original but actually expands on its story and its characters to create something really special.

The previous film simply dealt with the cheerfully goofy panda hero Po (voice of Jack Black), discovering his destiny though the art of Kung Fu and being groomed to become The Dragon Master. That adventure was fun, but not exactly deep. It was an odd mixture of Chinese folklore and western 21st century sensibilities. It was jarring, but now that I have gotten use to that odd union, the sequel is a little easier to swallow.

The story this time is a little heavier and far better. Po, as the movie opens, has begun to wonder about his past especially since his father Mr. Ping is a goose (voiced by James Hong). Po decides that there may be some need-to-know information. The answer comes from a problem that is looming over the land, an army led by an evil knife-throwing peacock named Shen (voiced by Gary Oldman) who possesses a new element called gunpowder and intends to use it to dominate all of China and wipe out the art of Kung Fu. Shen knows the secrets of Po’s past and our furry hero determines to uncover the truth.

So, Po amasses his Kung Fu fighting force, The Furious Five, which includes Tigress (voiced by Angelina Jolie), Mantis (voiced by Seth Rogan), Viper (voiced by Lucy Liu), Monkey (voiced by Jackie Chan) and Crane (voiced by David Cross). The joy of the characters in this sequel is that they are given more screen time and a little more depth, especially Tigress who is a fearsome warrior and may, in some future sequel, win Po’s heart. I also loved the presence once again of Po’s master, the red panda Shifu, voiced beautifully by Dustin Hoffman. Shifu has much less screen time in this sequel, but his brief scenes are really touching.

What is special about “Kung Fu Panda 2” is that it doesn’t just repeat the formula of the original but takes its characters onto a much larger canvas. Po’s search for his real parentage is deep and quite moving, told in flashbacks using some really beautiful hand-drawn animation. That story is connected to the main plot with Shen, who is a wonderful movie villain. Here is an evil white peacock with an erudite manner and an evil presence. We might be inclined to laugh at the possibility of an evil peacock but, in the world of this movie, it works.

The action scenes are breathtaking. When the characters fly through the air, there is a sense of depth and balance and weight. The action scenes, unlike so many these days, are fast-paced without ever becoming just a series of confusingly edited shots. We understand where the characters are in relation to one another and we know what is at stake. The animators really seem to have thought out these scenes and figured out how to make them special, not routine.

There are moments in the film of startling originality especially a great comic moment when Po must sneak through town to the tower that houses Shen’s army. He uses one of those parade dragon costumes to get himself and his Furious Five past the guards. When he needs to speak to someone with information, Po has the dragon simply drag them inside the costume by gobbling them up. When he must fight an enemy guard without being detected, the dragon gobbles him up, and the costume drops him out the other end. There are at least two dozen moments like that, my favorite being a scene in which the portly Po faces his arch nemesis: a flight of stairs.

Seeing the movie is 2D was a breath of fresh air. The 3D process tends to get in the way, making the scenes look muddy and dark. Watching the movie without the intrusion, I was able to focus on the beauty of the animation. There are wonderful textures on the surfaces and on the characters. When we get a close-up of Po’s fur, it is finely detailed so that we can see the individual hairs. More than that, the faces are wonderfully expressive, not just in eyes that open and close, but in pure emotion.

Some may think that I am overpraising this film, but I can only report how I felt. I settled into my seat and kind of knew what I was getting. Having seen the original, with its vision of China completely populated by various types of animals, I was ready for this one. It does what great sequels do, it moves past its original concept and broadens the horizons of its story possibilities. It offers new sights to see and new characters to behold. I enjoyed this movie, much more than I expected.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2011) View IMDB Filed in: Action, Animated, Kids