In Home Viewings Review: "Kung Fu Panda 2"

Kung Fu Panda 2 reunites the audience with Po Ping (Jack Black), the tubby and somewhat lazy panda bear who has been named the fabled Dragon Warrior. He still has much to learn, however, and Po’s teacher Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) spends most of his time trying to make Po understand the concept of inner peace. Things take a bad turn when Shen (Gary Oldman), an evil and power hungry peacock who was banished from the country long ago, returns to his former kingdom in the possession of a diabolical weapon. Po and his team are tasked with ending Shen’s reign of terror before he can take over the whole of China but as their battle unfolds, Po is faced with the realization that this is a much more personal fight than he ever could have imagined.

I didn’t see the first Kung Fu Panda until a couple of years after it was released. Looking back, I’m not sure why I chose to stay away because I really enjoyed it. It isn’t up to the level of Pixar, of course, but then again, that is an unfair standard to hold any film up against, let alone a kid’s movie. KFP is pure, unadulterated fun and contains just enough brains to make the storyline run smoothly. This sequel picks up right where the original left off and the two films work together in almost perfect harmony. KFP2 jumps directly into the action and it doesn’t let off the gas very often, exactly what you need to keep the attention of the kiddos while simultaneously preventing adults from finding issues to nitpick at. It’s one of those films that would become tiresome if it was even ten minutes longer but at 91 minutes, there’s nothing to complain about. This is a very lively film and (I would imagine purposefully) a bit reminiscent of the better elements of a Bruce Lee flick, only if Bruce Lee was funny and a bit overweight.

KFP2 has an outstanding collection of talented voice actors, ranging from Angelina Jolie to Seth Rogen to Jackie Chan and director Jennifer Yuh uses them well. I’ve said this before but one of my pet peeves in an animated film is when a character (or characters) is relegated to second fiddle behind the actor providing the voice. I don’t want a constant reminder that “actor X” is the face behind the drawing. I never had that issue here. In the back of my mind, I knew that the praying mantis is actually Seth Rogen but it wasn’t constantly shoved in my face. And then there’s Gary Oldman, of course, who brings a brilliant, villainous tone to the role of Shen. I’ve often said that if you want to make your film better, just add Gary Oldman and you’re done. Shen is a more intimidating baddie than you could reasonably expect from this movie and an improvement over the villain in the first Kung Fu Panda.

The area in which KFP2 sets itself apart from the average kiddie movie is in the sheer beauty of its animation. This is a gorgeous film that mixes sweeping landscapes with exquisitely detailed characters and powerful action sequences. For my money, the Kung Fu Panda franchise is the most visually compelling of the Dreamworks properties and I almost (almost) think it might have been worth seeing in 3D. All told, this is a highly enjoyable and funny movie that should please viewers of all ages. And in a year that is devoid of a strong Pixar entry, I would make the case that this is the best animated film of the year.

Grade: B+