There is a small but elite club of animated films that actually manage to improve upon their predecessors, with Toy Story 2 and Shrek 2 standing as the most notable examples of this. You can add Kung Fu Panda 2 to that list, as the film contains all of the elements that made the first installment such a success but also takes things further by exploring Po’s mysterious past.
It’s the flashbacks into Po’s childhood that ultimately elevate Kung Fu Panda 2 above the affable original film, as the movie is otherwise packed with all of the kid-oriented elements that made 2008’s Kung Fu Panda such an enormous hit – including a decidedly juvenile sense of humor and an ongoing emphasis on larger-than-life action sequences.
There’s also no denying that Kung Fu Panda 2 instantly establishes itself as one of the best looking movies in the DreamWorks Animation legacy, with the surprisingly artful visuals ensuring that the film comes off as a veritable feast for the eyes. First-time director Jennifer Yuh does a superb job of infusing even the simplest of scenes with animation that is nothing short of astonishing, with the flashbacks, which are presented in a hand-drawn style, certainly standing out as a highlight within the proceedings.
As Kung Fu Panda 2 opens, Po (Jack Black) is clearly enjoying his new life as the fabled Dragon Warrior and the loveable panda spends his days alongside the Furious Five – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Monkey (Jackie Chan), and Viper (Lucy Liu) – ensuring that the Valley of Peace remains free from harm. During a training session with his mentor, Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), Po learns of a threat from a mysterious villain who wants nothing more than to destroy kung fu.
Po and the Furious Five subsequently head off on a journey straight into the heart of China, where the evil Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) has rolled into town with his formidable army. (Lord Shen is a fierce peacock who has been plotting his revenge ever since he was banished from his village by his own parents.) Meanwhile, Po is suffering from parental issues of his own – as he has been plagued by vague memories involving the true story of what happened to his birth mother and father.
The Voice Cast
Jack Black’s irreverent voice work in the original Kung Fu Panda was one of the most memorable aspects of that movie, and that’s just as true with this sequel. The character of Po has clearly been designed to match Black’s exuberant personality, and the actor does a stellar job of bringing the lovable panda to life. (Black also pulls off the film’s few dramatic moments quite nicely, it’s worth noting.) As was the case with the first film, the Furious Five aren’t really utilized to their full potential – although this time around, at least, Angelina Jolie’s Tigress is given a little more to do.
The remainder of the cast has been peppered with a number of familiar names, although it’s Gary Oldman who stands out as the best of the new bunch – which is all-the-more impressive when you remember just how menacing Ian McShane was as the first movie’s villain, Tai Lung. Danny McBride, playing Lord Shen’s top henchman, delivers a typically comedic performance, while Dennis Haysbert, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Victor Garbor provide excellent support as a trio of sympathetic warriors.
The Bottom Line
Kung Fu Panda 2 has clearly been designed to operate as a companion piece to the 2008 original, as the movie unfolds in a similar manner and, ultimately, contains many of the problems that plagued that first film. And while the movie is somewhat uneven and the midsection feels a little too leisurely, the filmmakers have effectively packed the proceedings with more than enough elements to ensure that fans will walk away satisfied – including a revelation at the movie’s end that leaves the door wide open for yet another sequel.
Kung Fu Panda 2 was directed by Jennifer Yuh and is rated PG for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence.
Theatrical Release Date: May 26, 2011