It’s rare that a trip to the cinema proves to be anything but predictable these days, so surely another outing with Po would involve jokes about gluttony, being unfit and a geeky love of martial arts, right? Well, yes, but what you don’t see in the trailer is this film’s tremendous heart.
Po (Jack Black) is living it up in his role as the Dragon Warrior, protecting the Valley from small-time threats together with the Furious Five: Tigress (Anglina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Crane (David Cross) and Viper (Lucy Liu). Defending the villagers from a raid by a pack of wolves, Po has a flashback when he sees a symbol carried by the pack leader, and he begins to wonder about his past. Word soon arrives that the evil Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) has taken over Gongmen City using a powerful new weapon that threatens the existence of kung fu. Po and the Five journey to stop him, with Po hoping to discover more about where he came from.
Kung Fu Panda was a funny film with a delightful message, but it essentially had a one-joke premise: Here’s an overweight panda with a kung fu obsession voiced by Jack Black. Whether the folks at DreamWorks sat through a Pixar marathon before making the sequel, nobody will know for sure, but Kung Fu Panda 2 delivers all that its predecessor did, but with astonishing resonance. While KFP was centered on a theme of “being yourself” and taught us how to use eating disorders to our advantage, KFP2 hits hard with questions of identity and reason for being. Just how does a panda end up as the son of a goose?
Gorgeously animated and freed from the limitations of human ability, KFP2 dishes out more outrageous hand-to-hand combat that rivals Indian cinema. Scenes with Lord Shen, a peacock, are particularly breathtaking. Going against the grain, the use of 3D in the film actually adds something to the moviegoing experience for once, absorbing you with depth.
Jack Black will undoubtedly return to dim-witted comedies involving guitars and being unconventional but he can rest easy knowing that he has put in one of the greatest voice-acting performances. Though we don’t hear as much of the Furious Five as we’d like to (as we did in the first film), and Master Shifu’s (Dustin Hoffman) role is far less significant, they make every line count.
KFP2 is one of those great animated films with something for you regardless of who you are, and though its seams aren’t always invisible, it sticks to its guns where it matters. It’s a satisfying journey worthy of the word “awesome.”