Monday, May 30, 2011

Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda 2

Kung Fu Panda 2 ***
Directed by: Jennifer Yuh.
Written by: Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger.
Starring: Jack Black (Po), Angelina Jolie (Tigress), Gary Oldman (Lord Shen), Seth Rogen (Mantis), Jackie Chan (Monkey), Dustin Hoffman (Shifu), David Cross (Crane), Lucy Liu (Viper), James Hong (Mr. Ping), Jean-Claude Van Damme (Master Croc), Michelle Yeoh (The Soothsayer), Dennis Haysbert (Master Oxen), Victor Garber (Master Thundering Rhino), Paul Mazursky (Musician Bunny).

I think the reason why most sequels, even good ones, fall short of the original is that they can no longer surprise us. By the time we walk into a second (or third or fourth or fifth) installment in a series, we already know what to expect. Sequels don’t want to be original – they want to give audiences more of what they enjoyed the last time out. Good sequels do that. Great sequels move behind, and push the series into new directions. Most sequels simply fall flat and are best forgotten.

The first Kung Fu Panda was one of my most pleasant surprises of 2008. It was fast paced, well animated, smart and funny and I enjoyed it from start to finish. Kung Fu Panda 2 is probably about as good as the first film – it’s just that since I had seen it before, it didn’t quite seem as good this time around. No matter – kids will enjoy the movie immensely, and parents along for the ride will have fun with it too.

This time, our hero Po (Jack Black), a giant panda with a giant appetite needs to learn who to achieve inner peace. His master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) tells him that he will only truly be a kung fu master when he has achieved it – that he’ll only truly live up to the title of Dragon Warrior he achieved by accident the first time if he can. He is once again teamed up with the Furious Five to fight evil in their small village. But then they get some distressing news – it seems like Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), an angry, bitter peacock, has returned from exile, and has a new weapon, utilizing gun powder. Kung fu may be in danger if Po and the Furious Five cannot stop him. Also, Po discovers the shocking truth from his swan father – that he was adopted. And what’s more, Lord Shen may know about his real parents.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is fast paced and exciting, and also extremely well animated. I liked that director Jennifer Yuh put some more traditional looking, hand drawn animation into the flash back sequences, because for the most part, this has become a lost art in American films. The 3-D in the movie isn’t a distraction in this film, but neither does it really add to the film. Like most 3-D films, it seems to be there in order to bilk an extra three bucks from people.

I enjoyed Kung Fu Panda 2 pretty much from beginning to end. The team behind the movie is obviously trying to learn from Pixar, and the emotional storyline about Po being adopted, and how it frays his relationship with his sweet, loving adoptive father is obviously meant to wring tears from the audience, like Pixar so masterfully does year after year (I have my doubts that Cars 2 will accomplish that trick this year, but we’ll see). It comes close to working here, but didn’t quite have the same impact.

Overall, I cannot see too many people being disappointed in Kung Fu Panda 2. It delivers what it promises, and is far more entertaining and exciting than the other sequels I have seen so far in what has been called “The Summer of the Sequel” (Fast Five, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides). For that, I am grateful. I just wish someone would come up with a new idea.

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