Black is back in a darker “Panda” sequel
When you are sitting in a crowded theater filled with kids, long stretches of silence are usually not the desired reaction from an animated film. Perhaps the filmmakers responsible for “Kung Fu Panda 2” were aiming for something much more serious than the delightful and consistently humorous 2008 original. After all, themes such as adoption anxiety, genocide and WMD dominate the storyline—not the usual kiddie fare to be sure.
But the stellar animators at Dreamworks make ‘KFP2’ a worthwhile viewing for the visual effects alone, featuring a vibrant and at times stunning palette that’s enhanced in 3-D and that will be impossible to duplicate anytime soon in your average home theater.
The darker storyline has our lovable pudgy panda Po (voiced by Jack Black) continuing his warrior training under the tutelage of sage Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). Shifu’s message this time around: find your inner peace. Po discovers more about his heritage, which underscores one of the film’s central themes about not letting your past determine your destiny.
When dastardly evil peacock Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) has his legion of henchmen gather metals for a new advanced weapon (this peacock has some serious childhood inferiority issues of his own), it’s up to Po and the “Furious Five” to use their old-fashioned martial arts skills to save the kingdom. Returning from the original film are Po’s posse, including Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Lieu), Monkey (Jackie Chan), and Crane (David Cross).
Despite long periods of narration and flashbacks, ‘KFP2’ features plenty of battle scenes which occur at light speed and contain lots of quick cuts that make it difficult (at least for adult eyes) to decipher details in the action. On the one hand, mercifully, “Kung Fu Panda 2” doesn’t mimic the original, but in doing so much of the first film’s whimsy and personality have been replaced with an ominous tone, albeit bathed in rich, somber hues of molten reds, forested greens, and resplendent ambers.
Jack Black reaffirms his vocal dexterity with aplomb, one of the best utilized matches of live actor to animated character in recent memory.
Just don’t go in to this sequel expecting a continuation of the original—this time around its not just Po who cuts a heavy figure, some kids (and parents) might find “Kung Fu Panda 2” to be a downer of Panda-esque proportions.
Rated PG for sequences of martial actions and mild violence.