Directed by: Jennifer Yuh
Starring: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Gary Oldman
If only every studio’s track record was as flawless as Pixar’s. Such a wish on my part, biased as it may be, has only been substantiated by countless recent failures in the realm of animated cinema. A stronger emphasis on state-of-the-art visuals over narrative substance is mostly to blame, and the act of producing sequels to films that weren’t anything to write home about in the first place just adds insult to injury. In some cases, a film’s overt silliness and appropriately childish sensibilities are perfect cures for the malaise others have often infected audiences with (see: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Monsters vs. Aliens), yet some if not most manage to miss the mark completely. As for Kung Fu Panda 2, I wouldn’t necessarily brand the film as just another unnecessary sequel to an animated favorite, yet it does obviously lack in the areas its predecessor excelled in to establish it as something well above average.
I as well as you are familiar with the phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This phrase, unfortunately, applies to literally every aspect of Kung Fu Panda 2 outside of a few intricacies the main story arc possesses. Many of the same jokes have been recycled to an extent, and although our shapely Dragon Warrior has successfully made the transition from gelatinous puffball to kung fu dynamo, it’s easy to pinpoint key elements that made the first film as entertaining as it is. Naturally, those with a less critical eye simply looking for a good time won’t be disappointed in the slightest, and the film as a whole remains as sly as can be.
Playfulness aside, Kung Fu Panda 2 excels mostly from a visual standpoint, utilizing breathtaking color palettes and several different animation styles to further engross viewers and keep them interested in Po’s ongoing search for his origins. The narrative itself doesn’t necessarily pack an appreciable emotional wallop, yet the production admirably avoids prolonged bouts of hilarity and surprisingly sleek action sequences to give us a heartfelt glimpse at the horrors certain characters have fell victim to, thus making the abhorrent peacock Shen relevant and even compelling as Kung Fu Panda 2‘s central antagonist.
The dynamite ensemble cast of voice actors has once again lent their talents to this above average sequel, with Jack Black proving he can aptly portray portly, awkward gentlemen in both live-action and animated features. Black as Po, needless to say, is certainly a treat, yet for some reason his eclectic bunch of sidekicks fall by the wayside and are merely present for the sake of engaging in combat, with the exception of a few instances of comic relief and mild poignance offered by way of Jolie’s Tigress. Aside from Gary Oldman’s as the peacock menace Shen, each character, major and minor is voiced adequately enough so as to not distract viewers from the more meaty parts of the proceedings (not they would anyway given the target audience).
As a sequel, Kung Fu Panda 2 is an acceptable entry into DreamWorks’ hit-or-miss catalog. In spite recycling the elements that made the original film so successful and plain enjoyable, Panda 2 benefits from a stellar visual quality that makes worthwhile use of 3D technology, a lively cast of voice actors and, above all, a narrative that remains engaging amidst both its simplicity and the more flashy sequences the film puts on display. Truth be told, there really isn’t anything to dislike about it; it just comes down to whether or not there are better animated features to spend your time with, which there certainly are. As for the kids? They’ll have a blast, no doubt about that.