Jul 23, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011): B

Visually electrifying, modestly sermonizing and well-rounded for condescension-free enjoyment by those of all ages, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a virtual equal of its 2008 predecessor, and together the two easily surpass the Shrek films as the superior of Dreamworks' animated franchises. Having spent the first film ascending to the unexpectedly bestowed status of the Dragon Warrior, panda Po (an effectively cast Jack Black) must now confront the internal as well as the external; inner peace is what he must find to reach his true potential, and for his superior, Master Shifu (a nondescript Dustin Hoffman), the process only took fifty years. Po begins to suspect - courtesy a recurring image from his childhood - that he was a adopted, a painful, albeit amusing development that temporarily ruptures his relationship with his father, a goose named Ping (James Hong, the eye doctor from Blade Runner). Po's personal discoveries are schematic, to be sure, but there's a genuine feeling of character here absent from most anthropomorphized animal fodder, while the use of various species suggests a world dually segregated and tolerant of the melting pot, much like our own. Po's blindness to a species gap is indicative of some kind of voluntary, free-spirited, open-ended program of procreative racial deconstruction. Or something. What's lacking - same as the original - can be found (or rather, can't) in the supporting characters, whose celebrity voices (chosen for name value more than vocal talent) look good on the marquee but fail to make these creations pop like the rest of the film. Fortunately, these weak links aren't as essential to the chain. As was Ian McShane before him, Gary Oldman proves a superior villain, and Jack Black's enthusiasm hasn't yet wavered. Inventive dream sequences and no shortage of cultural relish help make this one of the more beautiful mainstream films in the recent years; even when the plot suggests a holding device, the continuous stream of visual wit more than compensates (a scene where a parade dragon "eats" the villainous henchman may be tops). At the end of the day, Kung Fu Panda 2 isn't just a model sequel or family film: as an action movie, it's superior to most of what's out there, animated or not. Don't underestimate it.

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