Several years ago … in 2008 to be exact … movie masses were introduced to the ultimate kung fu fanboy – Po, a portly panda imagining warrior glory in between serving up soup and noodles at the family restaurant. Voiced by the, at times highly annoying, but always humorous Jack Black, Po came to animated life right before our eyes and by the end, audiences did not only know that he was in fact the legendary Dragon Warrior, that in fact he could go toe to toe with the famed Furious Five and that, in fact he could save the Valley of Peace, but also that he was a fantastic character with the heart of a lion.
Fast forward to … well … now and fans will once again be able to live out their dreams with Po in the delightful “Kung Fu Panda 2.”
The story is heartwarmingly simple. Po’s past and origins are brought into question when an old enemy – Lord Shen – a spoiled, hate-mongering peacock – reemerges to reclaim his throne and threaten complete domination over China. With the aid of his five companions, Tiger (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Crane (David Cross) and Viper (Lucy Liu), Po will use all his Kung Fu training, and maybe a few new techniques, to try and defeat this strangely familiar enemy while seeking the answer to the hardest question of all … “where do I come from?”
Gorgeously animated with slick movement, excellent textures and high-powered action, “Kung Fu Panda 2″ is an amazingly tender and surprisingly worthy sequel that in a big way proves to be better than the original. As a character, Po still uses the obvious fat jokes to grab a quick laugh, but as the story moves forward, what you also get is a soft look at a boy seeking the truth about his family. Taking a deeper look at the pandas adoption by loving foster father Mr. Ping (James Hong) and their relationship, the film loosens it’s comedic base and quickly transcends the basic animated fun flick into much deeper film focus. At the same time, by reaching back into Po’s unfortunate history, the filmmakers were able to turn the bubbling buffoon into a character that is wonderfully rounded out and worth much more than meets the eye.
Seriously folks, while staying kid-friendly, director Jennifer Yuh and writers Jonathon Aibel and Glenn Berger have crafted a very mature story that connects the always fragile family dynamic by intertwining the tales of two creatures looking for their correct place in the world without their parents.
Actor-wise, this film is brimming with quality talent. From Gary Oldman’s menacingly fun turn as the evil and confused Lord Shen to the cool inclusion of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Haysbert as two new martial arts masters, this film has it all. But, that may be a bad thing. While all the characters play an important role at some point in the story, honestly, there are just too many of them. Lucy Lui, Jackie Chan and David Cross barely have any lines and unfortunately spend most of their time as background elements or basic props for Po to use in his quest. Of all the Five from the first film, Jolie’s Tigress is the only other character that really gets quality time and luckily she proves to be more than just a basic live-for-training kind of a gal. This over-filled cast of characters makes the film seem so full that at times its hard to really focus and in the end, prove that some of these characters while neat, are just a little unnecessary.
But of course that’s just being nit-picky. As stated earlier, this film is gorgeous to behold and, even though they made me watch it in 3D (and everyone knows how I feel about 3D) I still enjoyed every frame. Three different animation styes are utilized to tell this heroic story and all three, at times blend beautifully into one another helping delineate and subtly help the audience follow the diverging paths of the storyline. Clearly the watchful eye of visionary director and here executive producer Guilermo del Toro has helped set the stage and by the end, you are simply mesmerized by the ballet of light, color and movement that the animators have produced on the screen.
As a parent, I will say that my three year-old, Maya was frightened by the henchman wolves that appear throughout the film. Also, remember how I mentioned that the film stayed kid friendly even with the mature themes? Yeah well, the fate of Po’s biological family is told and quickly my little lady was firing questions to me about what happened and why. Just be prepared … but don’t let that stop you from enjoying this film with your little ones.
Possibly a little long for the younger audience members and filled too high with characters are just two minor gripes that should not stop anyone from enjoying this film. By rounding out the character and exploring the family dynamics of adoption and the foster family, “Kung Fu Panda 2″ kicks new life into it’s own franchise and transcends audience expectations. Solid action, silliness for the kids and classic comedy help shape a wonderfully warm family film that is only outdone by the excellent animation that it is built within. For a quality, family outing this holiday weekend, don’t miss this film.
4 out of 5 Radishes