TACOMA, Wash. – DreamWorks Animation SKG, the studio that brought us “Shrek” and “The Prince of Egypt” has finally returned to its roots. The studio’s upswing, which began with last year’s “How to Train Your Dragon,” continues with “Kung Fu Panda 2.”
Po (Jack Black), the clumsy Dragon Warrior from the last film, is now a full member of the Furious Five. He and his pals – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogan), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Crane (David Cross), and Viper (Lucy Liu) – must defeat the evil peacock, Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), who threatens to destroy kung fu and conquer all of China with a new secret weapon.
To make matters worse, the goose Ping (James Hong), has finally confirmed Po’s greatest fear. He was adopted.
My favorite comment on this revelation came from Tigress to Po, “Your dad, the goose [long pause]. Wow, that must have been quite a shock.”
This leads Po on a journey in which he must not only save the future, but also confront his past.
The plot in and of itself isn’t original. It’s very similar to any Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee movie.
Like it’s predecessor, much of theese themes were re-interpreted in “Kung Fu Panda 2,” and that is what makes this film so unique. All throughout, the film feels just like the natural continuation to an already great story; and that’s what any good sequel is suppose to be.
The film has been marketed as a comedy, and rightfully so. But I must say, it is also punctured with very serious themes, espeically when Po deals with issues such as family, place, and belonging.
The focus of the story of course is Po. Without him, there would be no movie.
Po is a kung fu master by this point. Yet he remains the bumbling, slightly dimwitted, and overweight-but-always-hungary panda we grew to love three years ago.
He is the everyman. He’s the kind of guy you root for. The one you want to succeed. You become very involved in Po’s story very quickly.
This film takes ona more serious tone toward the end when Po begins to confront his past. What his life was before he came to live with Ping.
Jack Black is often pigeonholed as just a comidic actor. But he is able to portray a troubled side of Po that really tugs at your emotions.
During a key flashback sequence, we finally learn where Po came from and what happened to his biological parents [and yes, they are pandas]. As the sequence played out, everyone in the theater was completely silent. Even young children were engrossed.
Seattle International Film Festival, which screened “Kung Fu Panda 2” during the now-running 2011 season.
This sequence demonstrated beautifully how much Po’s biological parents actually loved him, in spite of Lord Shen’s claim otherwise, something that Po was able to accept and then move on.
It also helped him accept Ping, who shamelessly exploits his son’s heroics, as his dad as well.
Another one of my favorite aspects about this film in particular was the extended blending of traditional and computer-generated imagery.
A majority of the film, all the “real” things, were rendered in computers, while much of the flashback and dream sequences were animated traditionally.
This has only been done twice by my count, in the first “Kung Fu Panda” and “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!”
No where in either one of these cases did the shift in technique confuse the story. In fact, it enhanced it.
It was so well done, in fact, that I’m confident we’ll see more cross-animation technique utilized in more feature films in the coming years.
Finally, the film does end on a cliffhanger. The posibility of a third film is likely to guarenteed. I’m not going to tell you what it is, you’ll have to figure that one out on your own.
But I can say, for the record, that I’m cautiously optimistic. I like Po and I like these characters, and I desperately don’t want to see them ruined through over-extension the way “Shrek” was.
All in all, “Kung Fu Panda 2” is the kickoff to summer we’ve all been waiting for. It’s a great story, chuck full of great characters and big laughs.
And yes, your kids will enjoy it too.
“Kung Fu Panda 2”
Staring Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Gary Oldman, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, and Jean-Claude Van Damme.
MPAA Rating PG for martial arts action and mild violence.
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