Po, the schlubby, lovable, kung fu-fighting panda, returns to help kick off the summer movie season in the highly enjoyable Kung Fu Panda 2. As far as sequels go (and Dreamworks looooves sequels), this was a solid effort.
First off, the animation is stunning. Just astonishingly beautiful. Vibrant colors, sweeping landscapes, and tons of fireworks. I love fireworks. I chose NOT to see this in 3D, which I started to regret about 3/4 of the way through. I hadn’t heard one way or the other if it was worth it or not, and I always err on the side of NO 3D when it comes to blockbusters. That being said, it might have been a mistake.
The plot centers around the maniac outcast Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) trying to take over China with his powerful new weapon, a cannon. Surely kung fu is no match for massive gunfire, or is it? (What do you think?) Along the way, the fact that Po is a panda and his father is a GOOSE is addressed, and you find out where he really comes from. You better brace yourself though, it is really, REALLY SAD (Baby Po is the cutest THING EVER). No surprise then, that this one had more emotional heft than the first.
The cast is capable enough. I don’t find the vocal talents of the “Furious Five” – Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, David Cross, and Seth Rogen (yucky voice) to be anything so remarkable that you couldn’t fill those roles with somebody else, however some characters are cast perfectly. Jack Black’s manic goofball energy is well suited to an animated persona, especially somebody like Po. Several of the more minor characters had voices that worked very well with their role – Dennis Haysbert as Master Ox, James Hong as Mr. Ping, Po’s father. The award for most exciting, expressive, and generally awesome voice goes to Gary Oldman (can he GET any cooler?), who is delicious as the evil villain, a peacock who has been denied his birthright and shunned by his parents. His voice conveys unhinged regal authority with expert ease.
The score by John Powell (who did the killer score for How To Train Your Dragon) and Hans Zimmer (who has done amazing scores for shitloads of amazing movies) is lovely. And scores matter. (Future post to come)
I enjoyed this about as much as the original, although there’s a little less comedy this time around. Who knows what the future holds for the third one (that’s right) because there’s a shocking final scene that pretty much guarantees a trilogy. With a killer setup, more gorgeous animation, and (hopefully) another enchanting story, Dreamworks can breathe a sigh of relief, because I’m already looking forward to buying that ticket.