Review by Ed Sizemore
In the first Kung Fu Panda movie, we saw Po (the Panda) go from noodle shop waiter to Dragon Warrior. Now, Po has settled into his new life with the Furious Five and is a beloved hero. A new villain, Lord Shen, appears with dreams of conquering all of China. He claims to have a weapon that will be the end of kung fu. Po discovers that he must come to grips with his forgotten past if he hopes to defeat Lord Shen and further master kung fu.
Kung Fu Panda 2 does what a good sequel should; it adds new layers to familiar characters and further develops the relationships among the central cast. Like adding the right blend of spices to an old favorite dish, this new complexity brings out latent aspects of Po’s character and makes us appreciate him in a new light. The writers are smart enough to leave the core of Po’s personality untouched; instead, they strengthen those characteristics we like so much in him. For instance, Po’s love for his adoptive father takes on new meaning and depth by the end of film.
I don’t want to make this film sound like a sober exploration of Po’s inner psyche, far from it. Kung Fu Panda 2 is just as fun-loving and uplifting as the original. Po is still a good-natured goof who tends to act first before thinking. Tigress and the rest of the Furious Five still have to reign in his enthusiasm. Jack Black is still just as quick and funny with the under-the-breath jokes and asides.
Tigress comes to the foreground in this film and becomes more three-dimensional as a result. I like her a lot. She can be serious, fierce, and very intimidating. She can also be kind, sensitive, and very caring. She makes for a good counterbalance to Po. Angelina Jolie does a great job bringing out all the subtitles of the character. By the end of the film, I was hoping there would be a Kung Fu Panda film that focused on getting to know her better.
Of course, a good action film needs a good villain. Lord Shen is a mix of evil genius, exiled royal heir, and disowned son. Like Tai Lung, the villain in the first film, Lord Shen is a very gifted individual who lets his darker instincts gets the best of him. Gary Oldman is obviously having a great time playing Lord Shen to the hilt.
The animation in this movie is absolutely gorgeous. It’s the best looking CG film I’ve seen to date. The characters look natural, and you quickly forget it’s a cartoon. The art is filled with lots of details. You can easily get lost in the backgrounds. I recommend seeing this in 3D. It brings out the depth of field, and it feels like you are peering through a window into another world.
There isn’t just one style of animation in this film. For the opening sequence, the animators simulated old shadow puppets. Fans of older animation will love the first few minutes of the film. When Po is dreaming, the film uses a more rough-hewn style that reminds me of woodblock illustrations. It’s perfect to give that sense of dream reality. Regardless of the style they use, the animators show they are master artists.
I saw Kung Fu Panda 2 with my parents, my nine-year-old nephew, and my brother. Everyone had a great time and loved the film. We all agreed that it was a better film than the original. It feels like Pixar has been resting on its laurels recently. With films like How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda 2, Dreamworks is showing they are ready to take over as top US animation company. They are on the right track. I hope they stay the course.