By Linc Leifeste | May 25, 2011
Director: Jennifer Yuh
Writers: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
Starring (voice): Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, David Cross, James Hong, Victor Garber, Michelle Yeoh, Dennis Haysbert, Gary Oldman, Danny McBride
It was with cautious optimism that I sat down to view Kung Fu Panda 2; optimism because the first installment was pretty universally loved (and how can you really go wrong with Jack Black as a lovable kung fu Panda) and caution because I’ve had the painful misfortune of attending a couple of real stinkers of children’s movies with my son as of late (yes, I’m talking about you, Yogi Bear and Hop!). I’m happy to say that the caution was unwarranted and the optimism was well founded. Unlike recent theater experiences with my three year old son, Miles actually wore his 3-D glasses for half of the movie and didn’t suddenly turn and say “I’m ready to go!” halfway through. On top of that, he’s already requested a repeat viewing and that’s pretty strong praise coming from him.
The second installment in the Kung Fu Panda franchise finds Po back in action but this time around it turns out he’s more concerned with finding inner peace (“Inner piece of what?” is his question upon being initially admonished to seek it out by his master) and coming to grips with his own identity. Heady stuff but don’t worry, it stays true to the humor and style of the original. So there are plenty of wisecracks and roundhouse kicks worked in between the heavier moments.
The film centers around Po’s showdown with Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), a genocidal peacock who has seemingly murdered Po’s birth parents, and his minion of evil wolves. It seems Shen has come into possession of a some kind of new weapon, a fearsome cannon with which he intends to destroy kung fu once and for all. With stakes so high, Po’s entire action-team associates jump into the fray- with Angelina Jolie as Tigress, Jackie Chan as Monkey, Seth Rogen as Praying Mantis, Lucy Liu as Viper and Dustin Hoffman as Po’s petite but powerful master, Shifu.
As well as having to find inner peace to be able to effectively resist Shen’s evil designs, Po is plagued by troubling questions about his own identity. Slowly coming to the realization that Mr. Ping, the loving noodle-chef goose that raised him, is not his father, Po has to deal with the complicated emotional issues that come with adoption. While its weightier introspective elements at times clash with the more lighthearted feel of the film, the ultimate life lessons that Po learns can be appreciated by viewers of all ages. And don’t worry, my three year old didn’t seem to come out of the film troubled by topics such as adoption and genocide.
And I have to say a few words about the use of 3-D in this film. I’m not a huge fan of the current 3-D craze, feeling that the vast majority of films I’ve seen in 3-D no way benefited from the format. But I feel that Kung Fu Panda 2 is an exception; the 3-D adds a depth to the vibrant and lush landscapes and only increases the pop and flair of the action sequences.