The original Kung Fu Panda was a surprise hit back in the summer of 2008 with Jack Black voicing the lovable and plump Po. He works in a noodle shop with his father, a goose, but dreams of performing Kung Fu. He ends up joining the Furious Five, which includes Tigress, Crane, Mantis, Viper and Monkey, and is trained under the tutelage of Master Shifu. It was the classic underdog story of an underachiever put into a difficult situation, but after he believes in himself and undergoes the right training, he becomes the dragon warrior.
Kung Fu Panda 2 follows up after the first film and shows what life is now like for Po, being a superstar and dragon warrior. He is legendary in his father’s noodle shop and even has action figures that little kids play with and collect. Master Shifu, voiced by Dustin Hoffman, informs him that the next step in his journey is inner peace. While looking for inner peace, he runs into an evil peacock from his past, Shen, voiced brilliantly by Gary Oldman. Po must defeat this peacock in order to find inner peace, learn more about his past, save Kung Fu, and bring peace to China.
What is most interesting about Kung Fu Panda 2 is how the filmmakers had great ambition to peel back the layers of Po and answer some of our questions from the first film. This is not just another cash-in sequel with little to no creativity or craft behind it. There is a tremendous amount of back story behind Po and we find out why his father is a goose, a question that I’m sure many fans had after the first film. It might seem a little comical and far-fetched to think that a peacock would have any chance over a panda, but he holds the all important mental advantage over Po. Not every battle is about strength, toughness, and brute force. There is the battle that is deep within all of us. Kung Fu Panda 2, for a children’s film, has a tremendous amount of depth behind it. Yes, we have amazing Kung Fu scenes that are sure to entertain children and even adults, but to me, it’s all about the heart and soul. That is what carries this film and makes it so much more than a simple sequel or a simple cute panda movie.
The humor of the first film is also present in this film. Just when things might be getting a little too heavy or intense, it pulls back a little and keeps it light. If you put Jack Black in most films, I am going to be annoyed with his loud, fat guy antics, but in the Kung Fu Panda franchise, he’s very subdued while also having a humorous side to him. It’s very balanced, which helps the character from becoming too over the top. Gary Oldman does a great job in voicing the peacock and really gives him a sinister side. It’s all about mind games for him, and you can tell that Po is dealing with a formidable foe. Seth Rogen, Angelina Jolie, and David Cross also offer up their voice talents to this project, and they do not disappoint at all.
Kung Fu Panda 2 is a rarity in Hollywood. It’s a sequel that is better than the original. While the first Kung Fu Panda was a fun movie with a lovable character, this film is a darker, more thoughtful picture that allows us to really get to know more about Po. It shows us that just because you have success, it doesn’t mean your past pain immediately goes away. You still have to deal with it and face it in order to be successful deep within, as well. I saw the film in 2D, so I can’t say how the 3D works, if at all, but in 2D, it’s a beautiful picture filled with bright colors and images. No matter how you view Kung Fu Panda 2, it’s worth your time and money this summer.
What should you do? See it on the big screen.