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Movie Review: ‘Kung Fu Panda 2′

May 27, 2011

Po the panda is back, and now that he has he earned his status as Dragon Warrior he finds himself in the position of protecting ancient China from a dastardly villain who wants to destroy kung fu for good.  The mini-menagerie that comprise the Furious Five are on hand to help out, though they have been relegated to secondary characters in this story. This is Po’s journey of self-discovery as he seeks inner peace, and the truth about his true heritage (he’s adopted).

The Valley of Peace is threatened by an evil peacock named Lord Shen (Gary Oldham) who is in possession of some ominous weaponry. As Po and his cohorts work to thwart Shen’s plans, Po realizes that Shen might be responsible for a painful past incident that altered the course of Po’s life. Lord Shen is flanked by an army of menacing wolves who do his bidding.

Although many will write this movie off as kiddie fare, there are some decidedly adult themes in KFP2. It has a dark, serious undertone that I liked. Let’s just say that Disney hasn’t cornered the market on tragic childhood loss. Bambi hasn’t got anything on KFP2. Of course, that serves to make the redemptive story arc all the more satisfying, you really root for Po and want to see him vindicated.

A glut of celebrities including Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Michelle Yeoh, Victor Garber, Dennis Haybert, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, and more lend their voice talent to the movie. With such big personalities in the film, it would be easy for the voice work to overshadow the characters, but that doesn’t happen here. Jack  Black (as Po) is more subdued and mature than he typically is, and thus he enhances the role, as a good voice actor should.

Boasting crisp visuals and bright, warm colors, KFP2 is a welcome reprieve from all the dimly lit 3D films we’ve been subjected to lately. It looks great, and the 3D is seamlessly integrated into the movie without being distracting.  Dreamworks Animation has established itself as a legitimate purveyor of quality animation. Director Jennifer Yuh served as story artist on Kung Fu Panda, so she directs with an artistic flair for beauty and color. At times the film is breathtaking. Guillermo del Toro was an executive producer as well as a creative consultant on the film.

There is plenty of action in the film, and its ninety minute running time is well paced.  Fight sequences are well choreographed and sufficiently thrilling. Kung Fu Panda 2 packs a lot of emotion and wit into that time as well. The film was scored by Hans Zimmer, and the music complements the film well.

The film is set up for another sequel.  Just today I read that Dreamworks envisions six films in the franchise. I find that a bit disheartening. When will studios learn that there is nothing wrong with going out on a high note?

There will doubtless be lots of kids seeing the film, and the whole concept of forgiveness and letting go so one can evolve and grow is a great message. It also addresses adoption in a positive manner;  your true parent is the one who raises you. This is the rare film that can truly be enjoyed by the whole family, although the wolves might be a little frightening for very young children.

Rating 3.5/5


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