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Review: Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

Directed by: Jennifer Yuh

Premise: A sequel to the 2008 film. Po (voice of Jack Black), the overweight but good hearted kung fu warrior of the original film, encounters a new villain who has developed a weapon that will allow him to overtake China. 

What Works: The animation of Kung Fu Panda 2 is very impressive. The film mixes computer animation with traditional hand-drawn animation as well as some other styles, using different techniques in prologue and flashback scenes that work very effectively; the hand drawn animation of the flashbacks give those scenes a fuzziness and emotional resonance that the form does so well while the representational style of the prologue has an older feel that sets up the backstory which becomes integral to the film. The quality and emphasis on the animation is important because Kung Fu Panda 2 is almost entirely composed of action sequences.  There is little down time in between and as a family-friendly action picture, it works. The fighting and chase sequences are a lot of fun, channeling Jackie Chan and Buster Keeton by way of The Road Runner, and successfully mix furious but bloodless martial arts action with sight gags. Like the first film, Kung Fu Panda 2 uses Jack Black’s characteristic wise guy humor and translates it into the animation of the character. As he did in the original, Black is more staid than he is in other performances, striking a balance of high energy comedy with more nuanced character moments.

What Doesn’t: Kung Fu Panda 2 is so focused on delivering the action that its story is little more than an outline. This film gives Po a backstory but does not use it properly. The purpose of exploring backstories is to confront characters with an existential crisis that requires them to come to a new understanding of themselves and the world. Kung Fu Panda 2 never really accomplishes that. Instead, Po discovers new and troubling things about his background but in the end he is virtually the same character that he was at the beginning of the film. Kung Fu Panda 2 is also disappointing in its use of the supporting characters. Master Shifu (voice of Dustin Hoffman) and the other kung fu warriors are all but ignored except for Tigress (voice of Angelina Jolie) but even she does not contribute anything to the story except occasionally getting Po out of trouble. The lack of any character or plot development is disappointing, especially since the first film did this so well.

Bottom Line: Kung Fu Panda 2 is fun. It could have been significantly more, and that the film settles for just being an action cartoon is a letdown, but it will make for satisfying family viewing.

Episode: #342 (June 5, 2011)