KUNG FU PANDA 2
***1/2 (out of 5)
May 26, 2011
Jack Black as PO
Gary Oldman as LORD SHEN
Angelina Jolie as TIGRESS
Seth Rogen as MANTIS
Jackie Chan as MONKEY
David Cross as CRANE
Lucy Liu as VIPER
Dustin Hoffman as SHIFU
Directed by: Jennifer Yuh
BY KEVIN CARR
Three years ago before “Kung Fu Panda” came out in theaters, I was sure it was going to be a real stinker. After all, it was following up the grotesque and painfully unfunny “Shark Tale.” What else could I have expected from Jack Black.
But when I finally saw “Kung Fu Panda,” I loved it. It was the first DreamWorks CGI movies that actually could stand up against the Pixar juggernaut and prove to be a brilliant family film. In fact, it made my list of top ten best films of 2008.
As the release of “Kung Fu Panda 2” approached, I was cautiously optimistic (which tends to be my go-to position on many a sequel). And, in a repeat of the summer of 2008, I found this film thoroughly enjoyable.
Now that Po (Jack Black) is a full-blown kung fu warrior, he helps the Furious Five defend his land against all enemies. However, there’s a new villain on the horizon… the dastardly peacock Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), who has discovered how to turn firecrackers into a weapon that can wipe out a kung fu warrior with one blow. Lord Shen plans on taking over the whole of China, and it’s up to dragon warrior Po to defeat him with inner peace and his unique method of kung fu.
Unlike another sequel that is hitting the screens this week, “Kung Fu Panda 2” takes the audience to some new places. Sure, there are plenty of rehashed jokes, including Po’s weight and his love of food. But we have a new journey for the characters. It’s not just a reshoot (or rather re-animation) of the first film.
The story gets off to a slightly slow start, which is not uncommon for a sequel of this kind. There’s some awkward pacing in the flashbacks that set up Lord Shen as the villain, and once we get to Po and the gang, we see the movie spend a little too much time trying to justify its own existence. But once we’re through the set-up, things really take off. And they don’t stop until the end with a great set-up for another film.
Like much of the high-end animation today, the visuals are brilliant. We saw this with the first film, and the production doesn’t overdo itself by trying to put three years of technical advancement on screen. Instead, it paints a beautiful backdrop against which this warm-hearted and touching story takes place.
As in the first film, the action sequences are quite excellent. The new twist to this movie is that it’s in 3D, and that looks brilliant as well. Using a mix of traditional cell-like animation, photorealistic CGI, mainstream character design and even a nod to anime action, “Kung Fu Panda 2” could have come across as a pointless hodge-podge, but it strikes a balance that is really satisfying.
And another word on the 3D… it’s worth it for this movie. Where live-action films are sometimes uninspired with depth or crammed into a substandard post-conversion process, animated films are where the true heart of 3D lies. It’s one of the few movies that has been released in 2011 that might actually be worth the confiscatory extra ticket price.
I still don’t like Jack Black as an actor, but like Jim Carrey in “Horton Hears a Who,” he’s restrained quite a bit in this film. And ultimately, it’s a sweet movie with a lot of heart. It’s not as fresh and stunning as the first “Kung Fu Panda,” but it’s a great film, and one the whole family can enjoy.