“Kung Fu Panda” was one of my earlier reviews and I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to review the second. I’d been told by friends how great the series continued to be but never got around to watching the sequels. Since it’s currently streaming on HBO, I’m delighted to report my friends were correct!
The story begins with Lord Shen, the prince of the peacock clan who rule Gongmen City in ancient China, who is trying to weaponize the fireworks his family recently invented. A soothsayer tells of his defeat by “a warrior of black-and-white” if he doesn’t change his ways. He then leads his army to kill all the pandas he can find to stop the prophecy. Not great!
Three years later, Po (voiced by Jack Black) is living his dream as a Dragon Warrior along with the Furious Five: Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogan), Viper (Lucy Lu), Monkey (Jackie Chan), and Crane (David Cross). Their teacher Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) tells him he has yet to complete is training as he has not achieved inner peace. When bandits attack the village, Po is distracted by the symbol on the leaders armor which causes him to have a flashback to his childhood. The bandits escape and everyone is concerned.
Po goes to speak with his goose father Mr. Ping (James Hong) who tells him he found Po in a radish basket behind his restaurant and doesn’t know what happened to his family. Shifu learns that Shen (Gary Oldman) has returned after years in exile and has killed the leader of the Kung Fu council, Thundering Rhino (Victor Garber), and plans to take conquer all of China with his metal cannons. When the other council members surrender, it’s up to Po and the Furious Five to stop Shen before he destroys the city and takes over the entire country.
Once again, what a cast! I spent the first few minutes each new character was on screen reading IMDb to see who was voicing them. Wowsa! The story is delightful and heartfelt – both rare in a sequel and one from a new writing team. Exploring a protagonist’s backstory is always good fodder for a sequel and they did so flawlessly. They even incorporate 2D animation for the flashback and dream sequences, which was a nice visual change of pace for the 3D we’ve come to appreciate from DreamWorks Studios. The action is frenetic and exciting, clearly very well-researched to look and feel like a classic kung fu film. But what got me most was the heart that the movie had. The first is silly and uses a lot of fat jokes because ha ha, he’s a panda. But this explored a lot more interpersonal relationships with the characters, not something often attempted in a sequel. Risky for sure, but what a pay off! I was also delighted to see it was helmed by a female director and a female producer. Go lady filmmakers!
It’s funny too; I was laughing throughout the whole thing. Sometimes silly or slapstick, but usually just well-written jokes and word play had me cracking up. And you know I love any animated film that’ll bring a tear to my eye!
Great story, solid performances, and exciting to boot; “Kung Fu Panda 2” is a welcomed addition to the Great Sequels List and I look forward to watching the third!
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Snack Packs
Lincoln L. Hayes is an actor and a writer in NYC. Follow his work at www.lincolnlhayes.com.