It took me a while but I finally caught the sequel to 2008’s mega hit Kung Fu Panda this weekend and I must say, I liked it much better than the original. I felt that the franchise grew a lot in its years of hibernation, leading to this well crafted second chapter to the life of the former noodle chef, now Dragon Warrior, Po the Panda, who is, of course voiced by ace comedian Jack Black.
Kung Fu Panda 2 retains its consistency with the original in the sense that it still has kung fu in the general core of the story, but it branches out to offer so much more in terms of character development, relationships and achieving peace amid the chaos.
The sequel revolves around Po’s origins and how his past plays an integral role in his destiny to battle Lord Shen, a power hungry peacock whose twistedness pushes him to use firecrackers, which his family invented to bring joy and prosperity to Gongmen City, for evil. Shen (Gary Oldman), was originally destined to succeed his father in ruling the city but was banished by his parents following his order to eradicate all pandas in the city because of a prophecy he overheard a soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh) deliver that was unfavorable to his plans. Bitter and determined, he sets out to take over China, destroying those who stand in his way by inventing a weapon that is so powerful that it threatens the very existence of kung fu. Po, who struggles to learn about his true heritage, learns about his parents’ fate and seeks to come to terms with his destiny and face his powerful foe and his army of hooligans head on.
What’s good about Kung Fu Panda 2 is that now it appeals to the emotions as well as the funny bone (Po’s scene with his adopted dad towards the end was super touching). It succeeds in finding the element that was missing in the original to complete the package this time around. In 2008, I thought that Dreamworks was doing a good job catching up with Pixar graphically, but as for the impact of the stories, Pixar and Disney were still way ahead. In 2011, with this offering, Dreamworks has stepped up its game and has managed to achieve a balance between good artwork and a solid plot to come up with a real contender.
Jack Black, who is best known for buddy comedies and stoner films, has polished his comedy in this movie to appeal to both the children and the adult audiences with jokes that are both funny and appropriate for the target market of this feature — which are kids. Po was avery entertaining and sympathetic hero, while Dustin Hoffman as Master Shifu did his whole Miyagi/Yoda thing effortlessly. Other big names who lent their voices to the characters — Angelina Jolie (Tigress), Jackie Chan (Monkey), Seth Rogen (Mantis), Lucy Liu (Snake), David Cross (Crane), Jean Claude Van Damme (Master Croc) did well in their scenes although I would have wanted Jackie to have more lines.
The graphics was top notch and the kung fu scenes were so fluidly delivered it was beautiful to watch. The stunts were very cool, leading me to suspect if Jackie was involved in planning the fight scenes because they were perfect blends of comedy and action which is his signature. There were areas where I thought the movie was Mulan-esque and LOTR-ish but it couldn’t be helped because of the setting of the film. Using 2D to depict the flashback and add emphasis to the scenes was also a stroke of genius which added great impact to the movie, both visually and transitionally.
All in all, the premise of Kung Fu Panda 2 was not original nor spectacular, but it delivered the goods and was a very entertaining ride for its entire 92-minute run. It was hilarious and it was fun, it had a moral lesson, all that an animated movie should be. Besides, the ending leaves the door waaaaay open for a sequel which I am really excited about. If the franchise continues to improve at this rate, I have no doubt they will be headed for another box office hit like these first two offerings.