Kung-Fu Panda 2 (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Kung-Fu Panda 2 (2011)

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ANDREW LIKEIt's been fairly easy to rag on Dreamworks and I admit to being fairly guilty of taking cheap jabs at some of their films.  Too many times they feel infected with quickly aging pop-culture references that die out shortly after being introduced.  However their Kung Fu Panda series, bright and creative, lacks any of those notions.  This sequel, much like the original, seems content to tell a fun story without dipping into the Top 40 Pop Charts.

This is the second theatrical outing for the Dragon Master and all around lovable panda Po (Jack Black).  He's been popping up in various animated outings and even his own Christmas special, but is durable enough a character to avoid wearing out his welcome.  After the events of the first film he has ascended to become an equal amongst the Furious Five and works to protect the Valley of Peace from semi-frequent attacks (kind of throwing a wrench in the whole "Peace" thing but I'll accept it).

One of the few drawbacks of this sequel is the plot which is terribly predictable from the get-go.  In a very stylish opening sequence modeled after Chinese puppet-shows, we learn of the evil peacock prince Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), who  slew all panda's after a soothsayer told him a warrior of light and dark would defeat him.  This left Po in the unenviable position as orphan, and explains how he ended up the son to the goose Mr. Ping (James Hong).

It's the little surprises, like how this costume is utilized, that give the film great charm..

Since we're basically told where the movie is going to go from the opening credits, it's just a matter of seeing how interesting it will be getting there.  Unfortunately that leaves the other major flaw of the film wide-open.  This one is all Po's story, which is fine, but leaves the members of the Furious Five as little more than window dressing.  This is sad when you've got actors like David Cross, who absolutely killed in some scenes of the earlier movie, left to function as an airborne panda delivery system.

Still, despite the predictability of the plot and side-lining of some of the main characters, this movie was made with a lot of affection and great creativity.  Each character has a soft design around them, providing a likable contrast to the borderline disgusting (though amazingly so) characterization of something like Rango.  They all move with weight and freedom, adhering to the laws of gravity in such a way that the action scenes have a propulsive weight behind them.

Those moments of action served as the bread and butter of the first film and are definitely the centerpiece here.  They range from the very funny, such as when Po and Co. go undercover in a dragon costume and are forced to devour their opponents, to the exhilarating, as when they are forced to escape a disintegrating tower.  The animators make good use of each animals special talents in creative ways, lending a nice guided unpredictability to these moments as we watch to see who is most suited for each task.

All fall down...

Ultimately it's some of the animated touches that really guide this film into some striking emotional territory.  Po's story may be one told before, but director Jennifer Yuh Nelson allows the subjective experience of film to filter through various animation styles.  There's the traditional CG of the film, then way the prologue plays out with the puppets and the finally the loving hand-drawn animation that shows how he remembers his past.  All of this blends into a single moment that is obviously coming from the opening frames but still manages to be heartfelt because of the successful fusion of all three animation styles.

I enjoyed myself quite a bit with this sequel.  While it might not have had the same kind of surprising punch that the original did, it's a far more thoughtful follow-up than I anticipated and makes for a great afternoon at the movies.  The further adventures of Po are guaranteed, I just hope they give his supporting partners more to do in the future.

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Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson.
Screenplay by  Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger.
Starring Jack Black and Gary Oldman.

Posted by Andrew

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