Review: Kung Fu Panda 2

May 28, 2011

The weekend of May 27th, 2011 will be remembered as the weekend where the only two wide release films to hit theatres are sequels to films that never warranted them. Faced with the dreadful choice of The Hangover Part II or Kung Fu Panda 2, I of course put my money on Jack Black as an animated panda in 3D. I think I made the right decision.

It was Summer 2008 when the first Kung Fu Panda hit theatres, and it ended with no hint of a sequel. Additionally, I didn’t like it as much as I could have, so when I saw the trailer for Kung Fu Panda 2 at a MegaMind showing, my reaction was a yawn. Fortunately today I can retract that yawn, as Kung Fu Panda 2 is awesome in more ways than one. This film is directed by Jennifer Yuh and here are my thoughts.

Kung Fu Panda 2 continues the story of Po (Jack Black), a chubby panda who was thrust into the legendary position of Dragon Warrior in the first installment. Returning are his teammates, the Furious Five (Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, and Angelina Jolie as a tigress. Rawrrrrr…) and together they must save China from an evil Peacock, Shen (Gary Oldman) & his army of wolves. Hilarity, sadness, and (as always) chaos ensue in a ninety minute runtime that goes by way too fast.

The animation is beautiful. It isn’t up to par with most Pixar flicks, but it’s gorgeous to look at. It’s set in China and the array of colors artfully crafted are a visual feat. Perhaps it’s easier to create stunning imagery using animation than it is to capture it with a camera, and that is a valid argument to make. But, even through cheapo 3D glasses, I had a blast watching every scene and I think it’s fair to say that other people will too. Further, Kung Fu Panda 2 is more than just a visual treat, the story is very capable of standing on its own.

An observation I made in the theatre is that almost every audience member was an adult. I counted five kids total, which is stunning considering Kung Fu Panda 2 is supposed to be a kids flick. But in my opinion and from my observation, this film has a great deal of adult appeal (heck, a group of adults even cheered the film when it ended), but not in any type of crude sense—More philosophical, if I may use that word. This film is entertaining to kids and adults can find an understanding in the messages conveyed. If you’ve crossed Kung Fu Panda 2 off of your “watch” list thinking that it’s for kids, please reconsider.

Jack Black does not have a solid track record of films under his belt, particularly lately. It’s easy to watch School Of Rock, and then watch him as a loud drug addict in Tropic Thunder and wonder to yourself “What happened?” Black has talent, but in recent years he’s been handed next to nothing but purposefully annoying roles. I hate saying it, but in my opinion, he should stick to animated roles or fire his agent. Jack Black is genuinely good as Po the panda, he’s calm, funny, and endurable for more than five minutes. It’s a genuine shame that doesn’t translate into his live action roles.

Setting aside Jack Black, the remainder of the voice cast does a very good job. Notable people I haven’t mentioned are Dustin Hoffman, James Hong, Danny McBride, and Michelle Yeoh, all of which are excellent in their roles. Just a thought, I have to wonder when (when, not if) animated films become the mainstream over live action. Every year animation itself advances, and voice acting techniques are becoming a skill that filmmakers are mastering. And, to your dismay (potentially), animated films are easy to turn 3-dimensional. Hint, wink. ;-)

In conclusion, why are you still here? Get out and see Kung Fu Panda 2 and if you already have, see it again! I do my best to avoid opinions of films until I see them, but it’s been impossible to avoid the hate-stream The Hangover Part II has received. Whereas, to the best of my understanding, Po the panda is getting lots of well deserved love. :-)

Edit: And nope, you don’t need to have seen the first Kung Fu Panda to see this one. It doesn’t hurt for the backstory, but Kung Fu Panda 2 works standalone and is a superior film.

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