We saw Kung Fu Panda 2 yesterday, and it was a joy to see a sequel that extended the original story so seamlessly and with such generous emotional satisfaction. Ebert liked it too, but thought the 3-D version detracted. Based on that assessment, we saw the “normal” 2-D version, and liked it very much indeed:
“Kung Fu Panda 2” is exactly as you’d expect, and more. The animation is elegant, the story is much more involving than in the original, and there’s boundless energy. I enjoyed it as fully as I possibly could, given the horror of its 3-D. The original film, in 2-D wide-screen, was just fine. But never mind. Hollywood has brainwashed us or itself that 3-D is an improvement and not an annoyance.What’s best about this sequel is that it’s not a dutiful retread of the original, but an ambitious extension. Of the many new elements, not least is the solution of the mystery of how Mr. Ping, a goose, could be the biological father of Po, a panda. In the original film, as nearly as I can recall, every character represented a different species, so I thought perhaps inscrutable reproductive processes were being employed. But no, Po’s parenthood is explained here, and it has a great deal to do with new developments in the kingdom.
I spotted at least 2 Easter eggs or visual jokes – there’s a Pixar reference (this is a Dreamworks film) in a fight scene along a city street (watch out for the signs, Po!) and there’s an old-school gaming reference immediately afterwards that made me gigglesnort uncontrollably. I was already laughing hysterically when at the beginning of the “stealth mode” sequence, Po truly takes on the role of the Dragon (you will, too), but the sequence built on the laughs to a level that was just pure, childlike delight.
Yet the fight scenes were also intense, although true cartoon-animal violence is handled senstitively. The exploration of Po’s backstory brought me to tears late in the movie, where only the reel before I was laughing or chuckling most of the time.
The antagonist this time out, played by a sinister-sounding Gary Oldman, is a royal peacock with parental issues who seems to have mastered the “war fan” style of fighting using his magnificent Chinese-style tail plumage. His encounters with Po are amazing to watch.
In fact, all the animation is just jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and there are flashback sections that are told in a simplified visual style that evokes Chinese water colors. The opening and closing credits are beautifully rendered “Chinese cut-paper puppet” scenes.
Jack Black owns the panda, who’s really come into his own as a skilled warrior (who’s still a plushy looking panda after all). And there’s just a touch of “skadoosh” too.
Highly recommended – we saw it at a matinee and there were a ton of kids, so think about going later when there might be more adults willing to be seen at a “kids’ movie.”