Entire family: Yes
2011, 91 min., Color
Rated PG for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence
DreamWorks/Twentieth Century Fox
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: B (same extra disc as on original rerelease)
Includes: DVD, Bonus Disc, Digital HD
Thoughts I had about Kung Fu Panda 2 as I watched it for the first time:
Hey, this sequel is as good as the original.
Sequels—especially animated action movies—often suffer from brain drain. Once the origin story has been told, what’s left for the characters to do? More action? Usually, and often at the expense of character development. But that doesn’t happen to Po (Jack Black), who became the Dragon Warrior in the first installment.
Huh, it’s actually a second origin story.
If the first film had me seeing elements of Star Wars, this second one had a Superman vibe. Like young Clark Kent, Po is found as an infant and raised by someone else, and of course like Clark Kent little Po grows up to be a superhero who is tasked with responding to all threats against their community. Despite their different species, it never occurs to Po—now so famous that children play with his action figure as well as the Furious Five—that he might be adopted, which he discovers in Kung Fu Panda 2. Mr. Ping the noodlemaker (James Hong) is worried that his son might abandon him, as he sets off to learn the truth about his origin and also stop Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), an albino peacock, from taking over all of China. As a result, there’s as much action and as much room for Po to grow as there was in the original Kung Fu Panda.
The animation actually kicks it up a notch.
The peacock fight scenes are especially mesmerizing because of their combination of grace and implied power. Long shots and action scenes are this film’s strengths—no doubt one reason why it received a Best Animated Feature Film Oscar nomination. That Rango won instead probably is a reflection of one thing:
The plot of Kung Fu Panda 2 is essentially the same as Kung Fu Panda.
Po tries to find himself in the first film—the son of a noodlemaker who seems destined to follow in his father’s footsteps, though he dreams of being a kung fu warrior—and he does in this one too. Action will help him arrive at a point of recognition, but instead of a former pupil of Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) who escapes from prison and threatens to take over China, it’s the son of a Peacock Dynasty that invented fireworks who turns his parents’ good invention into something bad by creating gunpowder, cannons, and cannonballs that Poe and the others must fight. Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chen), Viper (Lucy Liu), Mantis (Seth Rogen) and Crane (David Cross) return to fight like animal Avengers, along with two new characters, Master Ox (Dennis Haysbert) and Master Croc (Jean-Claude Van Damme). Still, despite the warmed-over plot, the action is different enough and the writing and the animation are strong enough to make you overlook any similarities.
Looks like the filmmakers had a trilogy in mind from the very beginning.
We don’t realize until Kung Fu Panda 2, which picks up shortly after the action of the first film had ended, that there’s a three-movie narrative arc. Po’s revelation that he’s adopted and the film’s ending make that perfectly clear.
Beware of several “Bambi’s mother” moments.
There are a few more sad scenes in the sequel than there were in the first movie, because you’re dealing with death and feelings of abandonment and/or rejection, and because the comic relationship between Po and his adoptive father turns more serious at several junctures. Small children might need a little coaching along the way. Or else, heck, you could just let them find their own way, as filmgoing children have been doing for generations now.
But what sense does it make to include identical bonus discs on both rereleases?
In addition to an audio commentary, deleted scenes, and a short voice talents feature, for whatever reason DreamWorks/Fox decided to include the same bonus disc of content on this rerelease as on the Kung Fu Panda rerelease. So if you buy both films on DVD you’ll find yourselves with an extra disc.
Violence: More intense action than the first, especially since Po absorbs more punishment
Adult situations: Those few Bambi’s mother moments of off-camera loss or implied loss
Takeaway: The Kung Fu Panda series is that rare model of consistency that Hollywood too often seems incapable of producing, especially in animated “franchises.”