Title: Kung Fu Panda 2
Director: Jennifer Yuh
Starring the voices of: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Gary Oldman, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, Dustin Hoffman, David Cross, Lucy Liu, Michelle Yeoh, James Hong
Though the first installment never fully captured this guy’s attention, “Kung Fu Panda 2” actually had me yearning for more. When taking that feeling into account, the only true disappointment to note here is that the flick barely runs 90 minutes. Every animated-action engagement felt climatic from the get-go. The landscape this adventure was placed upon will give audiences an eye-gasm.
With all that praise being said, there isn’t a ton of laughter that will be flying out of one’s mouth. Chalk this up to a personal preference, but there should be multiple laugh-out-loud moments when looking at the make-up of this product. First off, it’s an obese Panda that does Kung Fu. And Jack Black is voicing this man-child. That combination alone should induce a lot more than a soft-smile. In reality, it doesn’t; but this is something the viewer will not dwell on after this story wisps through the screen.
Using a different type of animation within the modern 3D CGI, a back-story is projected to the audience regarding an evil Peacock in Lord Shen (voiced by Gary Oldman). Shen was banished from the great kingdom by his parents, stemming from the horrors he committed against a race of Pandas, based on a foretold prophecy that he will meet his demise from a “black & white” warrior. After he received the boot, he took his army of wolves and vowed to return and rule China. And the bird lived up to his words. Shen has created a weapon that can counter-act any Kung Fu style. Unleashing this new found fire power (remember it’s ancient China), he begins to destroy all the cities until there are no longer any threats to his reign of terror.
Of course, Po (voiced by Jack Black) and the Furious Five are not just going to sit back and let this happen. So he, Tigress (voiced by Angelina Jolie), Mantis (voiced by Seth Rogen), Monkey (voiced by Jackie Chan), Crane (voiced by David Cross) and Viper (voiced by Lucy Liu) travel from the Valley of Peace and battle Shen across rivers, towns and a great fortress. During these exciting battles (that will have people clamoring for the videogame), Po discovers that Shen holds the key to unlocking where he truly came from.
The story is pretty fundamental and obvious (this product is aimed at the kiddies after all), but the execution and environments on-hand create a worthy cinematic experience. Every area Po and his fighting companions explored in this tale brings a sense of wonderment for all ages to engage in.
For those that are just getting introduced to the “Kung Fu Panda” crew, think of this piece as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; story – with Po representing the immature Michelangelo – being fused with an epic storytelling pattern found in any notable fantasy/adventure flick. The script and the characters are playful and vibrant, and there’s enough moments where the right amount of heart and substance enter in. Seeing young Po as a baby in the recurring hand-drawn animated flashback moments is easily the cutest thing seen on screen this year. (And that’s coming from a wannabe rock star who patterns a portion of his life after Steven Tyler).
When the story does get serious – or even mildly dire at times – the writers are quick to lighten up the mood through the dialogue. Stealing the show in the dialogue department is Gary Oldman as Shen. The evil, sarcastic Peacock had the perfect balance of being comical one minute and insanely cruel the next. Oldman found the right amusing tone in his voicing of this arrogant and bitter bird.
So there’s not a ton of laughs, or more specifically, not a ton of NEW laughs on display in this light-hearted piece. The choreography of a few scenes are set-up to get the younger people giggling. In the end though, it’s the splendid animation and warm-touching moments that will keep one fully attentive to this adventure.
Overall, “Kung Fu Panda 2” trumps the first one and will be pleasing to all audiences. That’s all a sequel of this caliber can ask for. Go in peace…And do not feel guilty about splurging on the 3D.
Review by Joe Belcastro