Like most of you reading this, I rolled my eyes when I found out that they announced plans for a second Kung Fu Panda film. History has shown us that sequels to hit films seldom do as well as the original. Often times, said sequels are just poor quality retreads of the original. However, this film defied that convention and even managed to out perform the film before it.
Kung Fu Panda 2 has not one but two stories throughout the course of the film. The first story, as indicated in the trailer, has our favorite panda, Po (Jack Black), and the members of the Furious Five on a mission to stop vengeful peacock, Shen (Gary Oldman), from conquering China and wiping out the art of Kung Fu with his powerful cannons. The second story is more internal, as it follows Po on his search for inner peace as well as the truth behind where he came from and who he truly is. These two stories flow within each other and both carry equal weight throughout the film.
Contrary to the usual faire of the animated family film, the story can be surprisingly dark at times, comparatively darker than the original film. The philosophical nuances and darker storyline add a feel to the story that’s akin to many of the classic martial arts films. That’s not to say that there aren’t the usual injections of comedy throughout the film, however. Much of the comedy stems mostly from Po, who tends to vocalize some of the thoughts the audience would have while watching the film in addition to showing how an everyman from the present day might react if they were in the same situation.
Not only is Po’s character given more depth in this film, so are the rest of the characters, most notably the members of the Furious Five. The development of the Furious Five is more or less focused on the dynamic of the group as a whole, as well as how they’ve evolved since we saw them last.
This film is very well done, with most of the original cast returning to reprise their roles. Most surprisingly, one of the strongest performances comes from Jack Black, who proves that he’s able to perform in dramatic roles, shown most strongly with theemotional scenes towards the end of the film. Another top notch performance comes from Gary Oldman, who plays the role not only as a villain, as someone to fear, but also as a man betrayed, a man who fears his fate, but is too stubborn to admit it.
One thing I found interesting while watching this film was the blend of 2D and 3D animation. The bulk of the film uses 3D animation, which is the norm when it comes to the recent string of DreamWorks family films. However, when they show dreams and visions, predominately Po’s, they use 2D animation that is on a level that hasn’t been seen since films such as The Road to El-Dorado or The Prince of Egypt, both of which were also made by DreamWorks.
Now for a fairly important question – “Is it worth it to watch this in 3D?” This question, however, doesn’t have a clear cut answer. In this reviewer’s opinion, it doesn’t really matter either way. The way this film takes advantage of the 3D effects is a bit of a mixed bag. Most of the 3D is used for atmospheric purposes, but there are a couple of those jump-at-the-viewer moments. However, they are structured in a way more reminiscent of first film where they parody action film clichés. On this front, the 3D works very well, but the experience will be pretty much the same if you see it in 2D.
Overall, this film is one that can be enjoyed whether you’re a child, a parent or just someone looking for a good movie to watch during the summer. On my personal rating scale, 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest, this film gets a 4 out of 5, a great family film that doesn’t suffer from the dreaded “kid-film syndrome.”