Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Written by Johnathan Aibel & Glenn Berger

Everybody loves a good underdog story, and what could be more underdog than an overweight panda becoming a kung fu master? That was the premise of the widely successful 2008 DreamWorks film “Kung Fu Panda,” which might have won the Oscar had it not been for the Pixar masterpiece “Wall-E” coming out the same year. Now three years later the two animation companies are competing again with a pair of sequels: “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Cars 2,” which is set to release in June.

The return of the soft, lovable Po ( voiced by Jack Black), along with his team of kung fu masters, the “Furious Five”, which includes the voice talents of Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, David Cross, and Lucy Liu, means more action, more fat jokes, more kung fu, and more great storytelling. This time through, the evil peacock, Shen (Gary Oldman), has created a super weapon which is strong enough to bring an end to kung fu. So Po and the gang must set off on a mission to stop the evil Shen and conserve the art of kung fu and the safety of China.

“Kung Fu Panda 2” steps up to the plate and creates a new and different take on these characters, moving the story forward with action. The action rules the day in this film. It seems to be constant, always popping up just around the corner, but Po is always there to meet it with his unorthodox approach. But what makes this film more than just another sequel is the fact that it focuses on its characters as well. And the voice cast does a great job adding to that effect, especially Black, whose Po is just as cluelessly charming here as he was in the first installment. The rest of the “Furious Five” have limited time, except perhaps Jolie’s “Tigress,” and the same can be said for old master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and new masters Croc (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Ox (Dennis Haysbert), who spend most their time sitting in jail. This film really is all about Po, and why not when he is such an enjoyable character.

Po is a bit of an enigma: an overweight panda who is a kung fu master and the son of Mr. Ping, a noodle making crane. Some things do not add up, but in this installment, fans get the backstory as Po makes a self-reflective journey to find his true identity while at the same time fighting the evil Shen. Like the first film, the themes are noble are handled with the utmost care and time by new director Jennifer Yuh Nelson. The animation is also something that really sticks out as excellent. The setting, ancient China, lends itself very well to breathtaking animation and the filmmakers certainly take advantage of that by creating lush landscapes and visually arresting architecture.

As far as sequels go, “Kung Fu Panda 2” does its job, and quite well. It does not best its original, as many sequels fail to do, but it does deliver a good story with likable characters and evil enemies. Although filled to the brim with action scenes, the film also manages to insert a moving father-son tale and an introspective self-discovery tale to give credence to the heroics of Po and the “Furious Five”.

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