Director: Jennifer Yuh
Starring: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Dustin Hoffman, Danny McBride, Gary Oldman (all voiced)
After the amazing success of ‘Kung Fu Panda’, I was very interested to see what ‘Kung Fu Panda 2’ would provide. Many sequels have a tendency to feel forced and over the top, as if their sole objective was to transcend the first film and in following that logic, they come unstuck. Each film needs to be able to stand up on its own merit even if they are connected to a series of movies. Dreamworks Animation had already made a very successful sequel in ‘Shrek 2’ (2004), but had also fallen apart with future sequels of that series and several others. I was really hoping that would not be the case with ‘Kung Fu Panda’ because the first one was humorous and entertaining. It turns out that in some ways ‘Kung Fu Panda 2’ was a bit of a let down, but its strengths overpower the weaknesses, making this another successful and respectable Dreamworks movie.
Po, the panda who became the Dragon Warrior in the previous film, is now officially part of the Furious Five (or now the Furious Six as they are now called). Things are going very well for Po in his new life, but when an emblem from his past returns, relating to a childhood atrocity he witnessed, Po must uncover the secrets of his past and the truth behind what happened to his family. Meanwhile, a peacock known as Master Shen is using his secret weapon against the Kung Fu masters of China, in his pursuit of the destruction of the Kung Fu art and control over the entire country.
The film’s humour isn’t always as effective as it was in the original, taking a bit more of a childish approach at times, and using techniques that worked in the first film, but far less effectively. The Furious Five characters aren’t used as well in this film, becoming much more secondary characters than previously; the charm of the first film was the interaction and dynamics of this relationship, so it’s a shame that this isn’t continued here. A key to any movie’s success is character development and a lot of sequels fail to address the further development which is crucial. However, ‘Kung Fu Panda 2’ delivers with the great existential question of “Who am I?”, something much deeper to provide a newfound emphasis on Po’s childhood; how he came to be the panda he is and how he deals with the incredibly awful things that have occurred in his life.
Much like its predecessor, this film has stunning animated action sequences; very intense and finely choreographed movements which transition into animated CGI characters brilliantly. Another positive worth noting is that this movie doesn’t hold back; as you may have already noticed in the discussion of the plot, this movie is darker than the original. It has to deal with some very troubling events, but the screenwriters and director have no interest in sugar-coating or avoiding that. They present a serious situation and I think that makes me respect the film even more. Master Shen is the new villain from which this darker tone stems, with the classic idea of domination providing the motivation for his evil ways. I think Gary Oldman works really well as Shen – he sounds villainous, has a particular style and you can see there is something deeper to the character by the end of the film.
‘Kung Fu Panda 2’ continues the success of the franchise with above average storytelling, characters, animation, and perhaps the best non-Japanese animated action sequences ever created.