Three years ago DreamWorks Animation put out a little film called Kung Fu Panda about a Panda with a destiny to learn Kung Fu and save his village from a shadowy warrior. It turned out to be one of my favorite films of 2008. While it might not be as good as the original (a film which I love to no end), the sequel brings plenty of awesome back to the screen.
Kung Fu Panda 2 fills in Po’s (Jack Black) back story as an attack on his village will lead him on a quest to discover where he comes from. Also back for the sequel are Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and the Furious Five: Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Crane (David Cross), and Viper (Lucy Liu).
The film also gives us a deadly new enemy in a deranged peacock (played with malevolent glee by Gary Oldman) who wants to rule all of China by the force of a new deadly weapon which could mean the end of Kung Fu. We also get a few new characters voiced by the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme as a Kung Fu crocodile (admit it, that’s pretty awesome), and Michelle Yeoh as the Soothsayer who holds all the answers to both Po’s past and future.
One of the best choices here is allowing Po to assume his role as the Dragon Warrior. He’s no longer the newbie of the group. Now Po is comfortable not only working alongside the Furious Five, but leading them in battle. Although he still provides plenty of humor, childlike wonder, and at at times consternation to his friends, writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger have allowed Po to grow quite a bit as a character.
Another interesting choice is the use of different animation to showcase both the film’s introduction to our villain and Po’s buried and half-remembered images of his past. Both work well. And when we do get to see baby Po in CGI, well, let’s just say it’s ridiculously cute.
Without being preachy, the story has some nice messages for children of all ages including a very Eastern philosophical stance on acceptance, understanding, and inner peace over the usual action flick ideals of revenge and vengeance.
The sequel also continues to expand on the relationship of Po with his adoptive father (James Hong). Po’s journey to learn more about himself only helps ground the relationship with the father who raised him. In animated features we’ve gotten plenty of orphans or kids separted from their parents (physically or emotionally) over the years, so it’s nice to see this type of loving relationship, especially one with an adoptive parent and child, continue to thrive in the sequel.
The 3D works well, but isn’t really necessary. It does add a little to some of the bigger action sequences, but, much like the original, Kung Fu Panda 2‘s biggest asset is its heart. Yes there’s plenty to cheer and laugh at (the winking at the camera, which was used in the first film, is back in force here), but the film doesn’t skimp when it comes to emotional moments as well.
The story may take a little longer to get going than the first film, but once the movie hits high gear it races full-speed all the way to the finish line. The longer the movie lasted the more I enjoyed spending time with these characters. I was sad to see it end, but if that final scene is any indication I’m pretty sure we’ll be seeing Kung Fu Panda 3 sooner rather than later. And that’s fine with me. We could all use a little extra awesome every couple of summers, and it seems DreamWorks has discovered the formula to provide just that.