I am a sucker for Pixar, but especially for Kung Fu Panda. The main character Po reminds me so much of my brother-in-law that he is perhaps the best character ever. That being said, we all know that sequels, especially of late, are generally prime examples of trying too hard to better one’s self. The simplicity and wit of the first is lost or overextended and the character arcs take on more and more drastic turns. The first time I saw Kung Fu Panda 2 when it came out, I was severely under-whelmed. This time, thankfully, my expectations were lower and thus I enjoyed it much more.
Once again we travel to China to see its beauty and its tradition in almost exaggerated ways, thanks in part to Hans Zimmer‘s compositions that play tribute to past kung fu films. We get to see some of our favourite characters again and watch them, in all their amazingly animated glory, perform incredible feats and fight more beautifully than we can imagine. We see the characters interact again, and more importantly, we get to learn more about them.
The fact that we maintained the old cast from part one and then gathered many more in part two makes the plot a little heavy to begin with. Po (voiced by Jack Black) and the Fabulous Five are clearly great friends at this point. Po is having the time of his life being The Dragon Warrior and always seems to pair up with Tigress (Angelina Jolie) to successfully bring down their foe. Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) continues to guide Po’s training and in this film encourages him to find his inner peace. It is only then that he can defeat the new villain.
Shen (Gary Oldman) is a particularly troubled Peacock who has committed genocide and stolen the throne. When the Fabulous Five learn that he has killed a great kung fu master and is using a new weapon to destroy all that they hold dear, they immediately set out to bring him to justice. Through much revelation, heartache, and unbelievable peace, they will bring Shen down or die trying.
The character relationships, for the most part, were a bit too friendly in comparison to the first film, in my opinion. Po and Tigress are suddenly best friends, for example, which is very far from what they were previously. Shifu has a very small role but stays true to himself, and the development between Po and his father is very touching. Po, despite what he discovers about himself and his past, seems to have slipped backward a few notches and the humor the writers give him is much more idiotic and slap stick than it was before.
If only for the love of the first film, I would suggest Kung Fu Panda 2 for you. Its animation is outstanding, its cast is phenomenal, and the kung fu is amazing. If you have low expectations and just want some fun, this would be a good family movie choice.