Kungfu Panda 2

Posted by sean On June - 12 - 2011

Po channels the mighty power of Tenacious D as he faces an army of wolves led by a maniacal peacock.

 

DreamWorks brings back the animal kingdom of the Far East in their latest venture, Kungfu Panda 2.  While the company has been rather hit-and-miss with their animation, their first sequel outside of the Shrek franchise shows that they can still produce a film that is not a retread of the previous installment but a new, fun-filled chapter with a surprisingly deeper narrative.

 

Kungfu Panda 2 resumes the journey of Po, the jolly panda with a hefty appetite, as he has embraced his destiny as the Dragon Warrior and has been accepted by his companions, the Furious Five.  Yet with his newfound title, he confronts the mystery of his origins in a quest to defeat the evil Lord Shen and his weapons that have the power to “stop kungfu.”  Off the bat, the Kungfu Panda 2 retains close to the level of quality of the animation part one displayed.  It’s slightly improved in color and detail, and the template is given a chance to expand in scope as the characters are taken to new places, most impressively Gongmen City with its labyrinth streets and detailed architecture.  The film also incorporates animated segments that resemble Chinese shadow puppetry in several flashbacks, widening the range of stunning visuals beyond the computer graphics.

 

Paired nicely with the animation is the humor, which relies mostly on the witty writing and martial arts, as opposed to the pop culture references and dance scenes found in DreamWorks other pictures.  Most of the time, the banter works thanks to the actors speaking it, but Jack Black’s shtick does stretch itself a little thin.  He channels his typical “dude” persona, yet he at least pulls back enough during the weightier elements of the story to give his character a sympathetic, humble side.  The jokes hit more often than not, but most of them revolve Po’s enormous weight and hunger, and they do get repetitive to the point of predictability.  On the other hand, the visual gags are rather inventive with one that combines a Chinese dragon costume and Pacman drawing the biggest laughs.  Like the works of Stephen Chow and Jackie Chan, the slapstick nature of the fighting is both funny and awe-inspiring and manages to have something unique in the style with each progressing scene without retracing its own steps.

 
Displaying the greatest improvement over the first film is the new story.  The movie wastes no time in recapping its predecessor, nor does it follow it beat for beat.  Instead, it reestablishes the setting and its characters with a new, thoughtful tale that stems from the small, weird fact that Po was raised by a goose, purposely left unexplained in the last chapter.  While the illogical pairing provided a few laughs the first time around, it serves as the foundation of a serious story about Po’s past that deals with a subject matter that few kids films address in today’s society where not every child has a traditional upbringing.  It’s a nice move to wrap the idea of how it’s not where you’re from but how you’re brought up, no matter by who, and shows that in an industry diagnosed with sequelitis, the effort is still made to make an engaging, heartwarming narrative.

 

Kungfu Panda 2 is an ice cold beer.  It may lack the pleasant surprise the first round had, but it is just as fun with more of a reason to feel for its characters this time around.

-Sean

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