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Kung Fu Panda is Back Doing What He Does Best

Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda II (2011)
Summary: Po joins forces with a group of new kung-fu masters to take on an old enemy with a deadly new weapon.
Spoilers: none

When I heard they were making a second Kung Fu Panda, I dreaded the thought. The chance of messing up such a sublimely animated and awesomely lovable action-adventure – stockpiled with loads and loads of USA-relevant comedy – was too great to risk. Then I saw the second movie and my fears were soothingly put to rest.

Directed by Jennifer Yuh (the lead story writer for the first Kung Fu Panda), part II is as delightful as part I. The same characters are back in the same lovable roles. “Po,” the Dragon Warrior Panda, is voiced by Jack Black. Angelina Jolie is “Tigress.” Dustin Hoffman is “Master Shifu” while “Monkey,” “Mantis,” “Viper,” and “Crane” are brought to life with the voice-talents of Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, and David Cross.

If you’ve seen the first film, you will be taken back with the same memorable scenery. You’ll be surprised how many chords it strikes to see it again. Any newcomers to the movie will meet an accident-prone, funny panda with enough slapstick offered to entertain three-year-olds, but with a plot maturity level high enough to speak to any other age group.

Since the conclusion of the first film, Po is going through a personal crisis, a crisis of identity. In flashbacks of his real parents, he is in a fight to find who he is and where he comes from. His noodle-making duck father, “Mr. Ping” (James Hong, voice) has been by his side, but can’t tell him the full story of how he came to be. But Po’s search for personal meaning must be put on hold when the evil peacock, “Lord Shen” (Gary Oldman, voice) rises to power with a new deadly weapon capable of blowing all of China to bits.

With “Master Rhino Mighty Horn” (Victor Garber, voice) fallen to the great weapon, the Furious Five’s strengths must be tapped to overcome Lord Shen’s conquering forces of ravenous, thieving wolves bent on wreaking chaos, led by the wolf boss (Danny McBride, voice). But Po and the five will need the extra help of “Master Ox” (Dennis Haysbert, voice) and “Master Croc” (Jean-Claude Van Damme, voice) to succeed.

The conceit and self-serving, advantageous manipulation of Lord Shen is classic villain material. His use of blades, here cloaked by his showy feathers, is something you’d see from the fast-flinging lead villain in any memorable martial arts movie. Lord Shen is a pleasant addition to the series, but with Po, things aren’t any different. They’re the same.

Po seems no more well trained than before his ascension to Dragon Warrior. Much of the film has Po’s seemingly inept bumbling around like we saw in movie 1. This is a bit unexpected and almost disappointing when these attempts at juvenile appeal make the audience ask how Po ever managed to beat Tai Lung. And this is especially perplexing to audiences because we get to see Po and Tigress face off against each other at one brief juncture.

The care with which the lines were written, the interaction of the characters, the way the personal elements take priority over anything else in the story is what you’d expect from Kung Fu Panda. This movie could have melded right in with the first, but we wanted a little more. 

Part II is not quite as inspirational as part I. Po’s dramatic search for his parents is overplayed and becomes emotionally exploitative to the audience. His oddly-manifesting ineptness, resulting in some much-loved humor has gone into overkill in an attempt to refresh it. But what we wanted was the next level, not merely a continuation of what made the first movie great.

Kung Fu Panda II may stand a little behind its progenitor in terms of overall quality and appeal, but the great fighting and thoughtfully-placed humor hits all the high notes, allowing it to stand front and center with its better half as a great cinematic summer kick-off.

(JH)

Grade: A- (4 stars)
Rated: PG (for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence)
Director: Jennifer Yuh
Starring: “Po” (voice) (Jack Black), “Tigress” (voice) (Angelina Jolie), “Shifu” (voice) (Dustin Hoffman), “Shen” (voice) (Gary Oldman), “Monkey” (voice) (Jackie Chan), “Mantis” (voice) (Seth Rogen), “Viper” (voice) (Lucy Liu), “Crane” (voice) (David Cross), “Mr. Ping” (voice) (James Hong), “Soothsayer” (voice) (Michelle Yeoh), “Wolf Boss” (voice) (Danny McBride), “Master Ox” (voice) (Dennis Haysbert), “Master Croc” (voice) (Jean-Claude Van Damme), “Master Rhino” (voice) (Victor Garber)
Genre: Animation / Action / Adventure / Comedy / Family
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