While never reaching the comedic heights of the original, the beautiful animation buoys a slow-starting but ultimately fun romp through the world of animated animal Kung Fu.
For decades, Disney remained unchallenged in the world of animation, and when they faltered in the 1980s, competitors like Don Bluth were only too happy to fill in the gaps for a willing market. So too was the case with the digital animation revolution, with upstarts Pixar ultimately dethroned and then saving Disney as part of a union that benefits both parties to this day. Yet with their audacity came a slew of other entrants, and while Shrek put DreamWorks on the map as a studio to be reckoned with, the original Kung Fu Panda proved that they deserved their spot there.
It has been several years since the original film and Chosen One panda Po (Jack Black) and his fellow fighters Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross) continue to protect the Valley of Peace. Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) drops a bombshell when he announces that Po’s training will not be complete until he achieves inner peace. Yet their peace is ripped asunder when evil peacock heir Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) mobilises a canon army against them. Po must draw on his past, including the relationship with his goose father Mr Ping (James Hong), to achieve victory.
With the exception of the popular but derivative Madagascar, and forgettable efforts Flushed Away, Over the Hedge and Shark Tale, Dreamworks Animation seemed to be content to be a Shrek sequel factory. Then Kung Fu Panda came along, and despite its potential for being a rehash of everything that had come before, surprised and disarmed completely with its charm and made us all realise that the best place for Jack Black is in a sound booth and not doing that one character he does in front of the camera. With the winning combination of eye-popping animation, martial arts action and a huge cast of voice actors, the sequel follows this formula for another outing. Yet where the first film had the amusing premise of an overweight Po (Black) attempting to become a master of Kung Fu, despite his obvious physical impediments, Kung Fu Panda 2 starts with a skilled Po and something of a conundrum for the makers of this anticipated sequel.
Going on the premise of one-upmanship, and Po’s new-found Kung Fu immediately threatened by a weapon that beats the Kung Fu, one would expect everything to be cranked up to 11 in this. So it is surprising that, with the exception of an opening fight sequence offering, Kung Fu Panda 2 takes a while to get going. Yet there is plenty of visual candy to keep us going until the spectacular conclusion, with just a few short years since the original being a lifetime in the animation world. Fur in particular looks good enough to run one’s fingers through, and light and water in animated films are now starting to look more realistic than the real thing. This sequel also represents one of the best uses of 3D in recent years, with the third dimension used to add depth and a tactile element to the visuals that is often missing from its live action cousins, and the closing light show is nothing short of magic. One suspects that if as much time had been spent on story development as the visuals, Kung Fu Panda 2 would be spoken of as a masterpiece of the Toy Story variety. Yet Kung Fu Panda 2 remains a fun, albeit predictable, return to some of Dreamworks’ favourite characters.
Kung Fu Pand 2 is released on June 23, 2011 in Australia by Paramount.