Kung Fu Panda 2

7 Jun

Title: Kung Fu Panda 2
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Jennifer Yuh
Writers: Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, with additional story work by Robert Koo
Starring: 
Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, James Hong, Michelle Yeoh, Danny McBride, Dennis Haysbert, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Victor Garber
MPAA Rating: 
PG, sequences of martial arts action and mild violence
Runtime: 
90 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
8.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 
82%

I’m a huge fan of the original Kung Fu Panda, I ranked it as my 30th favorite film of all 2008 and I think that was the film to make me realize that DreamWorks Animation wasn’t gonna fall into oblivion after they ran out of Shrek‘s (because I’m not a particularly huge believer in the Madagascar films), a fact that was later cemented by last year’s tremendously solid How to Train Your Dragon and Megamind. So you can trust me when I say my expectations for this sequel were set extremely high. And while I don’t think this one necessarily manages to match the heights achieved by the first one, I still think it was quite great, with tons of very funny moments, lots of great action and all of it told with high quality animation chops.

Seriously, if you liked the first Kung Fu Panda I don’t think there’s any way you won’t leave this one feeling disappointed, because it’s basically more of the same, but not in a way that feels recycled like it did in The Hangover Part II, but in a way that finds ways to reinvent the familiar formula using new jokes and a flashier way to tell them. I won’t stop commending the animation in this one, because I was left totally spellbound by it, I loved how elegant and slick everything looked and how the filmmakers in this one finally found a way in which to make the 3D technology hated by many an actual asset to their storytelling and not just another obstacle to make films look horribly dimmer. It’s still not the perfect usage of 3D and if you can watch it in 2D then by all means go do it because we’re still ages away from your average 3D film being good, but it’s better than you’d think, and I thought it was smartly used.

And the voice work, much like it was in the first film, is still top notch here, with the originals returning and the addition of a few worthy great actors to lend their voices to awesome new characters. Because that’s really part of the appeal to many animated films nowadays, the big name actors chosen to voice the characters. I mean, Pixar I guess can do without that because they’re Pixar and their brand name along will get people into the theaters, as well as it should, and even they sometimes have a few big name actors lending their voices, but the rest of the animation studios usually try to get huge stars to lend their pipes to get people to see an animated film. And hearing the results from that is many times a joy in an of itself, and it’s one of the reasons why last year’s Despicable Me (which I gave a solid A- to) worked so incredibly well, because it had hilarious voice work by Steve Carell, Jason Segel and Russell Brand.

Kung Fu Panda also has its fair share of western starpower to voice its orient-based animals, including Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen and a slew of other very good actors that return to this one and then there’s also Gary Oldman, who came on board for this sequel to voice a very memorable villain made all that much better thanks to the great and distinguishable voice of the screen veteran. And what’s awesome in the way this franchise has picked its stars is that they are all people that not only have instantly recognizable and infinitely cool voices and ones that appropriate to their characters, but also that they’re fine actors that can lend so much energy to the roles they are given just with their voices, an energy that is only heightened by that stellar animation job I have already talked a bit about.

The film really feels like a worthy continuation of the first, and not just some cheap way to keep the bucks coming in for the franchise, with the mystery of how Po, our titular main panda bear, could be the biological son of a peacock, a plotline dragged from the first film and brought to the forefront in this one. But of course the main trouble is Lord Shen, the villainous peacock I talked about, he has these steely feathers on his tail that he can thrust like deadly weapons to his foes, and it just so happens that a soothsayer told him to beware of pandas, so his destiny and Po’s, like Harry’s and Voldemort’s and so many of the great rivalries, are mystically intertwined.

And I gotta say again that this is all done with gorgeous animation, and you can tell DreamWorks Animation is done with playing second fiddle to Pixar and is trying its best to provide a little competition (though it obviously still has a long ways to go), but if you think Kung Fu Panda 2 will provide animation you’ve seen time and time again in movies that can make animals look cute, you’re dead wrong, they go head and shoulders above your usual stuff here and provide some moments of truly staggering beauty. And that’s what Kung Fu Panda 2 is all about, terrific animation, a lot of very funny moments, a masterclass in voice acting by Mr. Black, Mr. Hoffman and Mr. Oldman and a 101 in how to follow-up a hugely successful first entry in a franchise. And while I don’t think this one really was as great as the first one, I will still be first in line for Kung Fu Panda 3.

Grade: B+

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