Mania Review: Kung Fu Panda 2 - Mania.com



Mania Grade: C+

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  • Starring the Voices of: Jack Black, Gary Oldman, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, David Cross, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Victor Garber
  • Written by: Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger
  • Directed by: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
  • Studio: Dreamworks Animation
  • Rating: PG
  • Run Time: 91 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: Kung Fu Panda 2

Kapow?

By Rob Vaux     May 26, 2011


Jack Black voices Kung Fu Panda 2.
© Dreamworks Pictures/Robert Trate

 I always feel like such an ogre when I beat up on movies like Kung Fu Panda 2: they’re so sweet and so well meaning that their basically rehashed nature becomes almost beside the fact. Like its protagonist, this one is cute, cuddly and far less effective than it clearly thinks it is. It ultimately succumbs to the follies of sequelitis – attempting to recapture the magic of the first film simply by emulating the same formula. It’s a near thing sometimes, but ultimately, the corporate nature of the enterprise does it in.

To its credit, it boasts a truly beautiful look: expanding upon the first film’s cartoon animal version of wuxia China. Its landscapes spring straight out of a children’s storybook – muddied by the infernal 3D glasses, but gorgeous nonetheless – and the innovative fight choreography reflects the traits of the participating characters. Consider, for instance, the new villain Shen (voiced by Gary Oldman), an ambitious peacock out to conquer all of China with his ferocious cannons. His tail becomes a sort of war fan, spread out to avoiding damage, then tucked in to launch sharp feathers at his opponents. The remaining characters in Kung Fu Panda reflect their various physiques accordingly, and Shen’s nasty gunpowder contraptions present the sort of challenge that even kung fu’s mightiest warriors may prove powerless to stop.

But stop it they must, led by the roly-poly Po (voiced by Jack Black) and his good buddies from the monastery. A series of faint memories spur Po on: visions of his panda family slaughtered by Shen in an effort to halt a mystic prophecy (something about a black and white warrior settling his hash). That conceit helps drive the plot forward, but also lends Kung Fu Panda 2 an uncomfortably dark edge, which the first film neatly avoided.

Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson can’t fall back on the unexpected freshness which the original rode to the finish line. No one expected much from Part One, which allowed it to sneak up on everyone and knock us flat. The second film has an established brand name to live up to, and refrains from any unnecessary surprises. Instead, it posits another round of lost infants, evil conquerors and mystic destinies to carry the day, all dutifully copied from corporate Hollywood’s Build-a-Script playbook.  That snuffs out a vital spark, which Nelson struggles vainly to recreate amid the environment and character design.

Undue clutter hobbles the film as well. Everyone’s back for the new adventure, including Po’s master Shifu (voiced by Dustion Hoffman) and the Kung Fu Five, as well as new characters voiced by Michelle Yeoh, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Victor Garber. At 95 minutes, Kung Fu Panda 2 barely finds enough time to cram them all in, and most of them are mainly here to sell more Happy Meal toys. The cast largely responds in kind: professional, but barely registering the energy necessary to evoke a presence. A few trite lessons about inner peace benefit from Nelson’s keen visual sensibilities, but do more to set up the inevitable Kung Fu Panda 3 than temper the current film’s problems.

To its credit, it moves along briskly, and the jokes retain a kind of resolute competence that keeps the audience engaged. Nothing about the film feels inappropriate or out of place, making it reliable babysitter fodder for families in search of some distraction. But none of these characters endear themselves to us the way other Dreamworks figures do. There’s no Shrek or Hiccup hidden within their ranks, and while Black remains an engaging presence, he’s still Black in panda form rather than any kind of recognizable character. Considering the franchise ambitions on display, you’d think they’d work a little harder to endear itself to us. It’s a close call, but while I enjoyed parts of Kung Fu Panda 2, I don’t think I’ll miss it very much when it’s gone.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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1 
madmanic999 5/27/2011 2:10:33 AM

Taking my boys to see this this weekend... I love everything I've seen so far, and have a feeling this will be a lot of fun.

Dazzler 5/27/2011 5:17:40 AM

Kung fu fun!  Who cares about the story.  I only need a story when humans are involved. 

redvector 5/27/2011 5:50:16 AM

Unconfortably dark? Did he not watch How to train your Dragon? Or The Incredibles? Then he clearly hasn't watched some of Cartoon Network's action cartoons. If he did he'd realize how stupid that statement was.

goldeneyez 5/27/2011 6:04:44 AM

 I think Rob was comparing the darkness to the original Kung Fu Panda which wasn't that dark in tone.  After going back and re-reading it, he clearly says, "That conceit helps drive the plot forward, but also lends Kung Fu Panda 2 an uncomfortably dark edge, which the first film neatly avoided."

It might be a good idea to not through around terms like stupid, or try to point out perceived mistakes in others.

flinshadytoo 5/28/2011 12:19:46 AM

 I gotta say I love most animation, but Kung-fu panda just didn't do it for me, so this sequel is a hard sell for me anyway, they make nice trailers though

saiyiansreign823 5/28/2011 1:26:24 PM

 I just saw it with my 5 year and 2 1/2 year old boys. After all the ranting and raving about wanting to see Kung Fu Panda 2 from the two of them, I am surprised that they weren't as interested in this movie compared to the first one. I have to agree with one thing from the review is that perhaps it's dark undertone was a little bit much for younger children to grasp! I personally like the movie with all the action and everything, but it didn't capture the same magic from the first movie... and this is coming from a father with 2 son's that continue to watch the first movie everyday since it's DVD debut. Yes... Everyday!

Higgy 5/30/2011 10:33:15 AM

I saw it yesterday with my 3 and 5 year old.  It was good, but not as great as the first one.  I wish they would have done a little more on inner peace rather then seeming to have made it so easy for him to attain...although he is the Dragon Warrior.  I found sometimes he seemed like he couldn't hold his own, and other times he outshined the 5 easily...it was kind of a back and forth thing.  I mean, I know he doesn't have the training that the 5 do...but first he's super good, then he's like a beginner, then he's back to being kickass, etc...  All in all it was pretty good, and the story was decent, but it missed that kind of...life lesson you got from the first that I love to see in kids movies...or in any movie really.  I'd give it a 3 1/2 out of 5.  Or a B- maybe a B.

CaptAmerica04 5/30/2011 3:39:34 PM

 Just saw this today with the family.  I think Rob is a little harsh.  While I agree that it does suffer from too many characters and not enough time (I felt the same about the first, wherein Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan had about 3 lines of dialogue each, making their presence as voice actors completely superfluous), I think that the formula of the film isn't so much "Build-a-Script" standard as it is taken from so many Saturday afternoon chopsaki kung-fu films from Hong Kong in the 70s and 80s.  And in that, Kung Fu Panda 2 is more loving tribute than photocopied, cut, and pasted.

I'm also NOT a fan of Jack Black in anything live action, but his lovable enthusiasm in animated form as Po is really infectious and enjoyable.  I can totally get behind his persistent pursuit of "awesomeness" because it is so unapologetic, born of innocence and purity that we all seek in watching a movie like this.

I will also agree with Rob that there wasn't a lot of "new" to this film, but for something like this, that's not always a bad thing.  I enjoyed it and will definitely be picking it up on DVD.

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