‘Kung Fu Panda’ is a nice ‘Kaboom of Doom’

Director Jennifer Yuh delivers the sequel to 2008’s original Kung Fu Panda.  Brought to life again by the vocal talents of the orginal cast (Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen and David Cross) with the additions of voices from Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Memoirs of a Geisha), Dennis Haysbert (Allstate Insurance voice), Victor Garber (Titanic) and Gary Oldman, Kung Fu Panda 2 is great fun for the entire family.

Offered in 3-D, Kung Fu Panda 2 delivers the money’s worth of protruding objects from the screen.  The premise is simple, an evil Peacock “Shen” (Gary Oldman) is on a quest to rule China and do away with kung fu forever.  Po (Jack Black) and the rest of the Furious Five must stop this once banished invader who brings new weapons to China, weapons inspired by fireworks.  But in this quest, Po learns where he came from, who he is and what happened when he was just a bear cub.

Kung Fu Panda 2 blends nicely the ideas of 3-D animation with 2-D art through “real” time and flashbacks (which pay tribute to Chinese shadow puppetry and watercolor) in a story that delivers both peaks and valleys.  There are some definite humorous moments on Po’s way to finding “inner peace” and there are the sentimental moments that will gain the “oooh’s” and “ahhh’s” from the audience.  And while this sequel does feel like a sequel (meaning some of the originality is lost), it adds new dimensions and characters and focuses more on Chinese traditions and spirituality through the additions of mediatation, inner peace, a soothsayer and fortune telling – making it good on its own accord.

This year has been filled with big box-office animations Gnomeo & Juliet, Rango, Rio and now Kung Fu Panda 2 (Hop doesn’t count) – of the four, Kung Fu Panda 2 is the best so far in 2011.  It has the excitment of a sequel, a compelling, nicely written story and some really nice voice-over work.  It’s a success because it plays for all the emotions but keeps a light-hearted, fun mood in a film that is visually intriguing (albeit a tad bit cliche, but refreshing).  And of course, if you wanted to, in all honesty, you may learn a thing or two about kung fu!

There’s a somewhat open ending to the film which will leave it open for another sequel should Kung Fu Panda 2 perform well (as expected).  Kung Fu Panda 2 runs 90 minutes and is rated PG for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence.

Grade:  A-


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