Mark Reviews Movies

Kung Fu Panda 2


2 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jennifer Yuh

Cast: The voices of Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Gary Oldman, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, David Cross, Lucy Liu, James Hong, Michelle Yeoh, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Haysbert, Danny McBride

MPAA Rating: PG (for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence)

Running Time: 1:30

Release Date: 5/26/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 25, 2011

The transition from outsider to insider is a dramatically difficult one with which Kung Fu Panda 2 has trouble coping. The story of the first followed Po (voice of Jack Black), a panda who admires his heroes from afar only to learn he is destined to be one of them. The sequel picks up with Po in the ranks of the Furious Five as the legendary Dragon Warrior, the kung fu master who can bring peace to the rabbits, pigs, sheep, and goats of this fantasy version of ancient China, and Po, now a celebrity and skilled fighter, loses that sympathetic hook that made his first tale such an enjoyable one.

It's not that Po doesn't have issues with which to deal in the second movie. He has to confront the realization that his father Mr. Ping (voice of James Hong) isn't actually his biological father (At least he always had the fact that Ping is a goose there to help ease the transition). He has to come to terms with why his parents weren't present in his life since he was a baby. He has to face the peacock that made that last problem a reality.

It's heavy stuff for—as his foes dub him—a big, fluffy, cuddly, cute creature to have nibbling at his mind, and it overtakes the group dynamic the first film spent so much time establishing. The Furious Five, who went from examples of the old adage of making sure to never meet your heroes to a team that could accept even the most unlikely of partners, are shoved to the background, making an occasional joke here or a hint at unexplored (sure to be reconciled in the next movie) backstory there.

As Po, Tigress (voice of Angelina Jolie), Mantis (voice of Seth Rogen), Monkey (voice of Jackie Chan), Crane (voice of David Cross), and Viper (voice of Lucy Liu) continue to use their kung fu abilities to uphold justice under the guidance of the mystical Master Shifu (voice of Dustin Hoffman), an old enemy returns from exile. Previously prophesized to be defeated by a warrior "of black and white," Lord Shen (voice of Gary Oldman), an albino peacock, led a massacre of all the pandas in China (recalled in flashback in some stylish traditional animation like paper cutouts, which is the only effective use of the otherwise far-too dimming 3-D). Banished by his parents, Shen vowed to one day conquer all of China by harnessing the destructive potential of fireworks, his species' greatest invention.

Early on, that sense of collaboration among Po and the Furious Five makes a brief appearance during a fight with Shen's wolf cohorts, who try to steal all the metal from a small village of musicians. With a rabbit playing a peppy tune on a stringed instrument, the good guys fight the bad guys by knowing intrinsically how they will move independently and as a whole, and there's a moment where they must all fling themselves off a cliff to create a bridge for Po to recover a falling net full of stolen goods.

That camaraderie disappears quickly, as Po spots a familiar emblem on the wolves' armor that triggers the first of a series of visions about his past. It's Po's show from there on, as he asks the most important (or obvious, depending on your point of view) question a panda can ask: "Who am I?"

There are some fine moments to help Po answer that question. Ping clings to his son after telling him the affecting story of finding a baby panda in a crate along with his daily vegetable delivery. A montage cutting between Po finding inner peace through a trick involving the catching of a single drop of water and the full realization of his origin is well done.

Po, though, is going at this alone, as Tigress attempts to sympathize with him through a story of her own before being interrupted by their arrival at Shen's palace, and the rest of the Furious Five barely have any dialogue once Po has his first flashback. As a result, the plot of the screenplay by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger (both of whom also wrote the original) comes across as a series of false starts and ends, as the extent of Shen's plan unfolds in chunks along with the facts about Po's past, and since the details of both are foregone conclusions from the beginning, the simple story feels drawn out for little effect.

The humor of Po and his friends' ability to accidentally undermine serious moments pops up every now and again (He calls out Shen from the roof of a building late in the movie but is too far away for anyone to hear him), but Kung Fu Panda 2 is missing the assured balance of tone and genuine heart that its predecessor had.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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