Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)
Directed by: Jennifer Yuh
Written by: Glenn Berger, Jonathan Aibel
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Danny McBride, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Jack Black, Jackie Chan, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen
KUNG FU PANDA 2
DISTRIBUTED BY:Paramount Pictures
REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Long ago in China, Lord Shen, heir of the peacock clan that ruled Gongmen City, sought to harness the power of fireworks as a weapon with which to rule the entire country. When he learned from the court’s goat soothsayer that “a warrior of black and white” would one day defeat him, Shen assumed she was referring to the giant pandas and had them exterminated to avert the prophecy. Shen’s parents were horrified at this atrocity and exiled Shen, who swore revenge. Thirty years later, Po is living his dream as the Dragon Warrior, protecting the Valley of Peace alongside his friends and fellow kung fu masters, the Furious Five, but is told by Master Shifu that he has yet to achieve inner peace. When Shifu hears that Shen has developed a cannon which threatens to destroy kung fu, Po and the Furious Five set out to stop him, but Po keeps having strange flashbacks of when he was a baby………
Though undoubtedly enjoyable, I personally wouldn’t place the original Kung Fu Panda up there with the best animated films from Dreamworks such as Shrek, Flushed Away and How To Train Your Dragon, but it was a huge hit. The basic idea is the sort of thing that sounds stupid but is actually genius from a commercial and marketing point of view – a martial arts movie with the characters as animals, thereby attracting a wide audience from young to old. Actually it’s not that stupid really – a quick look at the titles of some old martial arts films such as Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow and Mad Monkey Kung Fu will tell you that much of kung fu is based on the movements of animals. Kung Fu Panda 2 basically takes the first film and ‘ups’ it, its makers obviously believing fervently in the ‘bigger is better’ creed. If the original was basically an ‘origin’ or a ‘training’ movie, this second film is a full-out action movie, and don’t laugh, I really mean that. It’s probably as exciting as any live-action film of the action kind you’ll see this year, though I still feel it doesn’t quite hit the heights it should.
Much like the first film, this one begins with a flashback introduction to the story done in Chinese-style paintings, then we quickly move on to a terrific battle sequence where Po and he Furious Five defend the village against attackers. This is a wonderfully inventive scene, with all the good guys using their specific animal characteristics to defeat their opponents, and sets out an ambition to make its’ action fast and furious without making it hard to follow, unlike many films with action in today. It succeeds in this throughout, though I didn’t see this in 3D [because, even though it does look better when applied to animated movies as opposed to live action ones, I still don’t feel it’s worth the extra money one pays for it!] and I reckon in that format it’s probably a little blurry at times. Although the main drive of the story is sometimes broken up by Po’s flashbacks to his childhood and investigation into precisely why his father is a goose, the pace never really slows, as Po [wasn’t he one of the Teletubbies?] sets out on his mission, and we are treated to tons of fabulous action. There’s escapes from burning temples and battles on ships, but the best sequence is a rickshaw chase about half way through, which seems inspired by but improves on the stunning chariot race from Dreamworks’ earlier The Prince Of Egypt. Crammed with gags and jaw dropping moments, it’s Jackie Chan crossed with Indiana Jones. Po battles Shen twice, and their first duel, including its dialogue, somehow reminded me of The Empire Strikes Back, so much so that I half expected Shen to tell Po he was his father. Their second fight is all too brief, but never mind.
This is one visually stunning animated film, with the chief colours of different settings used well to create certain moods, and I especially loved the way Po’s flashbacks were in good old hand drawn style. I really think that technically, Dreamworks is ahead of Pixar-just look at the detail, for example, on the close ups of Po’s fur. The script though is uneven. It does have more going on than the first film and unifies all of its’ threads very well, and I also love the lack of preachiness. Violence is seen to solve things in this movie, and Po happily stuffs his face all throughout. Disney, and I reckon even Pixar, would have incorporated some messages that fighting and eating a lot are bad! I The film falters though when it talks about Po finding ‘inner peace’, this attempt to incorporate the psychological aspect of martial arts just coming across as pointless, and what’s up with that stupid bit of ‘magic’ at the climax? Though never dull for a moment, Kung Fu Panda 2 just lacks that certain magic that you get from really great animated films. As with Kung Fu Panda, the typical Dreamworks pop-culture humour is absent but what laughs remain sometimes fall a little flat, and, considering you are basically watching animals doing kung fu, I think more and better jokes would have been a good thing. It’s worth noting that, despite what you might think, this isn’t really for very young children at all. At the showing I saw, a few got bored, clearly finding it either too intense or just not understanding it.
Jennifer Yuh, a storyboard artist and assistant director on many Dreamworks movies, has been promoted to director here and she just about keeps things well paced, fast without being frantic. Jack Black was born to voice Po, his vibrant personality really comes across and it helps greatly that the character designers gave Po elements of Black’s physical appearance and mannerisms, without being too obvious about it. The rest of the celebrity filled cast are fine, with Gary Oldman adding another great villain to his lengthy list of screen baddies, though I wish Jackie Chan’s character said more-I almost forgot he was in the film. Luckily Michelle Yeoh is on hand to add both authority and mystique as the Tigress Soothsayer. John Powell, who has done sterling work on so many Dreamworks animated films, delivers another superb score, constantly evoking the Oriental setting without going over the top about and writing some thrilling action pieces. There’s much in Kung Fu Panda 2 that is great, and without a doubt it’s a fun time at the movies. As with the first film though, I somehow expected more. O well, there has been talk of several more sequels, and this one ends in a manner that virtually cries out for one, so it won’t be long before there’s another one.
[pt-filmtitle]Kung Fu Panda 2[/pt-filmtitle]