Kung Fu Panda 2 opened to thunderous acclaim and applause. Most people were pretty unanimous in enjoying the first one, and for those people I have some good news. The sequel delivers a very similar experience. Fans of the first Kung Fu Panda should be completely sated by this second entry into the series.
Naturally there are a few differences, and the second movie expands on the world while delivering a plot that is darker than the first. Although learning the nature of Kung Fu is still front and center, this is much more an adventure film than a training piece. In fact, aside from a few snippets here and there, you would be hard pressed to identify anything that is an overt training montage. This works well for the movie as it uses the extra space to introduce a new villain, interesting supporting characters, and provide more insight into our hero Po.
For all two-and-a-half people out there who did not see the first one here is the backstory. In an anthropomorphic animal version of mythic China a panda named Po dreams of being a prophesied Kung Fu master known as the ‘Dragon Warrior’. In reality he was the son of a goose who ran a noodle shop, but through a series of crazy mishaps he ended up being chosen as the Dragon Warrior. Along the way he learns what it truly means to study Kung Fu, and that it is hard work, and saves the day in the end.
In the sequel, Po is now a famous hero and fights alongside the Furious Five, the great heroes from the first film. One thing this film did well was not having him totally overshadow them, but at the same time not completely resetting his fighting ability. There are far too many movies that end with the main character gaining tremendous power and then a sequel comes along and suddenly our hero is incapable of tying his own shoes. Fans of video games know this all too well. Anyway, Kung Fu Panda 2 does a neat job of avoiding this by having Po fighting with his teammates in perfect unison. For anyone who saw the first film, this is actually kind of inspiring when you recall that Po spent most of his time daydreaming about doing this exact thing.
This movie revolves around a peacock named Lord Shen who was supposed to inherit the throne of Gongmen City. He used fireworks to create cannons and wanted to take over all of China, until a fortuneteller told him that ‘a warrior of black and white’ would defeat him. At this point I gave my friend a knowing wink, because I recalled that pandas are black and white. Guess who would be coming along to defeat the unsuspecting villain?
This is when Lord Shen, voiced by Gary Oldman, did something that surprised me. He proceeded to exterminate all of the pandas in China! What the heck? This is a kid’s movie right? Not only was the genocide of an entire village jarring, but we retroactively made our hero Po a tragic orphan. Not only that, but this explains why we never saw another panda in the entire first film! Something I never really paid any attention to in the first movie ends up being a major plot point of the second, and on top of that it never seemed like they were setting the film up for a sequel.
Sure, call me naive, but Kung Fu Panda did not give us any wink-wink nods or post-credit Nick Fury that said we would be seeing another film. Not only did the film set up the second movie by not having any other pandas, but then the fact that Po is surprised to find out he’s adopted is played for laughs. I took this as the sequel laughing at me for not noticing the lack of additional pandas in the first one. Speaking of interesting things worked into the film, did anyone else know that ‘Po’ is also a term for the soul. At least part of the soul, in this case it is the ‘animal’ soul and deals with instincts and urges. Very appropriate for our main character.
Anyway, the movie is about Po’s quest to stop Lord Shen and along the way learn the truth about his past. Also we have an underused Dustin Hoffman who returns to voice Master Shifu and tell Po that the key to the next stage of Kung Fu is to find inner peace. Although Po can fight and do some amazing feats, we also see that he is still lacking in wisdom and does not yet have the depth of understanding to comprehend what Master Shifu tries to tell him. So this ends up being an adventure film, but also a movie about the spiritual growth of our main character. Not bad for an animated kid’s film.
Speaking of animation, I saw the 3D version of this movie and have to say that it was superb. 3D has been getting a lot of flak lately, especially from my circle of friends, because the studios felt a need to wedge it into every newly released movie. I still hold fast to the idea that I have not seen a really good live-action 3D film, and quite a few horrible ones, but Kung Fu Panda 2 just reinforces the idea that 3D should be for animated features. If you have the money and the inclination, it is worth seeing this one in 3D.
There you have it, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a very well-done sequel and delivers on a good many levels. Really there were no glaring flaws, and not even enough to nit pick. I highly recommend checking out this film.