When Kung Fu Panda hit theaters in June 2009, nobody expected a DreamWorks film to reach the previously unmatched quality of Pixar’s animated family films – but it did. Kung Fu Panda possessed every characteristic of a strong film, not just a strong kids film. It had a great story, likable characters, fun action, a huge heart, morals and intensity, making it one truly entertaining moviegoing experience. Sequels are usually never as good as the first, but Kung Fu Panda 2 rises to the occasion.
Unlike another sequel opening this weekend, Kung Fu Panda 2 feels like a continuation of the original, like it was written at the same time as the first. It doesn’t come across like a studio’s attempt to quickly capitalize on the success of a promising franchise. While still maintaining the family friendly tone, Kung Fu Panda 2 takes the series in a darker direction while exploring the origins of Po (Jack Black, Nacho Libre).
The intro of Kung Fu Panda 2 tells us of an evil Peacock price named Lord Shen (Gary Oldman, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) who 30 years prior wanted to use the invention of fireworks to create a weapon that “breathes fire and spits metal” to take rule over all of China. Under the direction of his father the king, Lord Shen was banished from the family’s city. A soothsayer prophesied that the day Lord Shen returned to pillage and overthrow, he would be defeated by a warrior of black and white. Assuming this prophesy foretold of a panda warrior, Lord Shen and his wolf henchmen slaughtered every panda in China – or so they thought. One baby panda lay hidden in a radish crate. Of course, we assume that baby was Po.
As Lord Shen prepares his attack on China, Po and the Furious Five set out to stop him in his tracks. During the first conflict with Shen’s henchmen, Po sees a emblem of Shen’s royalty that triggers a forgotten memory from his childhood. The closer he gets to Shen, the stronger these memories flood back. Wanting to know where he came from and why he was raised by a goose, Po’s journey to defeat evil and defend Kung Fu turns into one of discovering his true identity.
DreamWorks kicked the storytelling of Kung Fu Panda 2 into high gear, making the original feel like it was made just to set up this story. The ending of the film is so strong, tying back into the first, that you would swear this series was written all at once with Kung Fu Panda 2 being the second act to a trilogy. Of course, feeling like the middle chapter of a larger story, just before the credits role we are teased as to what the story of Kung Fu Panda 3 might be.
My only complaint from Kung Fu Panda 2 stems from its 3D, which can easily be corrected by seeing it in the standard 2D format. DreamWorks’ animation is in superb fine detail, but the darkened tint of the glasses cause the brilliant clarity of their animation to become lost. It is a known fact that for your eyes to adjust to the 3D depth, shots need to be 3 seconds or longer. Anything shorter than that causes your mind to not process exactly what you are seeing. Not all of the time, but for several action scenes, Kung Fu Panda 2‘s editing is far too quick for your eyes to process, causing you to lose the action.
In the beginning of Kung Fu Panda 2, Po asks the Furious Five something like, “What are we going to do today? Take down pirates?” Hopefully, yes. Kung Fu Panda 2 should take down pirates – Pirates of the Caribbean that is. Kung Fu Panda 2 is a box office opponent worthy of its success and definitely deserves to dethrone Pirates.
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures