I will be gosh-danged. I went to Kung Fu Panda 2 thinking it ought to, at the least, be semi-enjoyable and it would at least be cheap– I saw it at the dollar theater.
But would you believe it? In the year of Super 8 and several superhero movies I’ve loved, Kung Fu Panda 2 just landed in my top 5 for 2011.
Here’s a preview:
Released on May 26, 2011
Written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger
Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Starring Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Gary Oldman, James Hong, Dennis Haysbert, Jean-Claude Van Damme (!!), and Danny McBride.
* * * * *
The first Kung Fu Panda was marvelously done. With its homage to and near reverence of Kung Fu, its excellent characters and voice acting, the intriguing and nicely archetypal storyline, and tasty animation, it was a blast. Jack Black seemed a natural for the character of Po, and the dynamics of the Furious Five were well-crafted. It also helped that it had a sense of fun. What’s more, Po’s intermittent meta-commentary on what he was doing and who he was with was very finely tuned.
So how do you top that, or how do you even equal that?
You use the same recipe, raise the stakes, threaten Kung Fu itself, flesh out characters more, add more visually awesome animation and then get Hans Zimmer and John Powell to compose easily their most fun and kooky score ever.
I can’t say enough about this film. I’ll start by telling you that if you haven’t seen it, stop fooling around. It’s worth top 5 billing for the year so far– very near to Super 8.
Kung Fu Panda 2 opens, after very nice opening credits, with a fight sequence, with Po- the Dragon Warrior- and his team fighting off some wolves who are pillaging a village of its metal. The battle is a breathless romp that is a cross between accidental stunts going right a’la Drunken Master and graceful teamwork. The team has meshed and it seems that part of the reason for this scene is to demonstrate that.
It turns out that a bad peacock by the name of Shen is using the metal to create a weapon that will destroy Kung Fu and give him dominion over all of China. In the process of doing this, Shen kills Master Rhino, who protects Gongmen City. Shen is the son of a previous ruler who was benevolent.
Towards the end of the opening fight scenes, Po is startled by an insignia on the wolves’ leader’s epaulet. He suddenly has a vision that confuses him: it is of himself being left behind by other pandas during what appears to be a terrible battle. This drives him to ask his goose father about his origins. His father, Mr. Ping, finally admits that Po is adopted.
This is done with such a deft touch that it is hilarious.
Now Po is out to find out what the evil Shen had to do with his own origins, while at the same time trying to find enough inner peace to be able to overcome Shen’s horrible weapon.
The voice acting is perfect. Gary Oldman does an extraordinary job as Shen (whose animation is simply marvelous and very unique), while the cameo by Jean-Claude van Damme as Master Croc (watch for the splits during the final battle!) is so much fun that it’s probably not legal in some countries.
Kung Fu Panda 2 is great for a lot of reasons, aside from the voice acting. It is a compelling and very engaging story, peopled by animals who use their uniqueness to hilarious and very effective advantage. Po is a touching character because his story is so very simple and moving. He’s not torn; he loves his dad, Mr. Ping. Holding any deception against Mr. Ping is anathema to the kind Po, who is full of love, courage, loyalty, and a sense of fun and excitement.
The script and dialogue are pitch perfect. Po’s ability to step back and realize that he is living his dream life, along with what he says during those moments, give the movie a real depth as well as a hilarious heart. It’s clear that the writers understand Po and what drives him perfectly- thus they are able to have his heart run the show. And Po’s heart is big enough to carry this film.
The animation is vivid and is not overly concerned with realism. It tells a story, so each scene is full of what needs to be there to complete that scene. You have texture and suggestion combined with an attention to artful detail. I really loved the colors as well.
Finally, the soundtrack is full of life and is very unexpected. It doesn’t sound like it is composed by veterans like Hans Zimmer and John Powell. It combines a bit of Elfman irreverence and improv with traditional Chinese sounds along with what you might expect from an adventure movie.
All in all, Kung Fu Panda 2 is eminently watchable for all ages. The violence is theatrical and motivated, not at all glorified. The animation is simply lovely. The humor is never potty or low-brow– indeed the slapstick from the first film is mostly absent. And Po emerges even more as a compelling hero figure who is taking a journey right out of myth and legend– it is very Campbellian.
Content warnings: Cartoon violence, explosions, and kung-fu. Lots of it.
Writing: 5 Acting: 5 Overall: 5
Don’t believe me? See if my review matches those on Rotten Tomatoes.
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