Rated: PG Reviewed by: Jim Release date: May 26, 2011 Released by: DreamWorks Animation
This animated martial-arts inspired sequel (to a 2008 smash hit) in widescreen 3D format benefits much more from its action than its plot or comedic elements.
Still, Kung Fu Panda 2, featuring the returning voices of Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, and Jackie Chan, among newcomers like Gary Oldman, has a cutting-edge visual verve to it. The prologue of Chinese silhouetted puppets to a climactic cavalcade of fireworks will definitely hold the attention spans of kids, but maybe their loved ones and/or older counterparts may be more exhausted than they care to admit.
There are two plot strands joined at a sweet and sentimental hip by Jonathan Abel and Glenn Berger as Black's peppy, hungry eponymous Po, referred to as Dragon Warrior goes up against pernicious, power-hungry albino peacock, Oldman's Shen.
A stumbling Po enlists the aid of his Furious Five cohorts - Jolie's Tigress, Chan's Monkey, Crane (David Cross), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Mantis (Seth Rogen). Shen, with his right-hand wolf (Danny McBride) have big pyrotechnic plans in "killing" kung-fu as they have assumed the placid domain of Masters Ox (Dennis Haysbert of the "Allstate" ads), Croc (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Rhino (Victor Garber). A fair amount of the tale has the group battling the arrogantly foppish Shen, often hand-to-hand.
To offer some balance, Po has to reach "inner peace" as Hoffman's diminutive mentor informs him to defeat his flaunting, feathery foe. That he will, so says the Soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh). All of this involves has the "destined one" realizing his parentage through Mr. Ping (James Hong), remembered from Kung Fu Panda as goose with a noodle business.
New helmer Jennifer Yuh Nelson does her best with a message movie that isn't nearly as starry and distinctive as the production and cast are trying to make it out to be. The combat sequences, as well as ones with hurling fiery bombs and huge, crumbling towers add some striking depth-of-perception as befits Nelson's animator background.
Yet, the filmmakers and storytellers don't really do much with the lionized leader Po, as Black has an easy task to make his dialogue amusing enough (catering to the younger set), but little else. A Yoda-like Hoffman, and, notably Hong, provide more personality and chutzpah in their appearances; the latter unfortunately is simply like a bookend. Oldman bring his customary intensity to Shen's villainous line readings - hardly as detrimental as in the recent live-action Red Riding Hood.
Still, for those new to what looks to be another very profitable, arguably sturdy franchise from a studio trying to close the gap with Pixar, the voice talent other than Black, Hoffman, Hong and Oldman really don't rise above mediocrity. Perhaps in part because the story doesn't use them as wisely and diligently as crafting and integrating the sumptuous visuals and CGI.
Kung Fu Panda 2 is too standardized to truly resonate as an animated fable-like adventure as Po gets more of an appetite for fighting. Some adults may easily see the nod to Winnie the Pooh, but even with all the amazing sights illuminating in a Hollywood-preferred format it's still more ambitiously whiplashed than winning.
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