- Rated PG
- Buy the BD
All photos © DreamWorks Animation
Reviewed by David Medsker
ung Fu Panda 2” is far and away the best film DreamWorks Animation has released to date. Upping the first installment’s dizzying action sequences while expanding on its lead character’s back story and creating a memorable villain, “Panda 2” is a sequel in the best sense. It’s not just bigger, but better as well. Think of it as a version of “The Matrix” that you can show your kids: it has gravity-defying fights and a pinch of Eastern philosophy, with none of that Merovingian nonsense.
Picking up where the first film left off, the newly-anointed Dragon Warrior Po (Jack Black) answers a call to stop a group of wolves raiding nearby villages. One of the wolves wears a symbol that Po vaguely associates with his murky childhood, and he ultimately learns that it is the mark of Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), a vicious peacock who plans to take over China and abolish kung fu, and may have had a hand in Po’s separation from his parents. Po sets out with his Furious Five kung fu mates Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross) to stop Shen, but his lack of focus due to the newfound identity issues begins to threaten the Furious Five’s ability to accomplish their mission.
While we still maintain that 3D is a silly gimmick that needs to go away and stay away, credit must go to DreamWorks for the work they did here. The depth-of-canvas approach they took to the medium is stunning. (The design overall is stunning, really.) Still, we must stand by our policy that all moviegoers should always choose the 2D option whenever possible, in order to send the studios a message. Unless, of course, you really like paying $10 for a child admission, or $14 for a movie that was more than likely converted to 3D in post-production, and looks horrendous. (Ahem, “Priest.”)
The expansion of the cast means that several of the main characters are marginalized in favor of the new additions, which is understandable but unfortunate. Rogen, Cross, Chan, Liu and Dustin Hoffman – the latter of whose character does something that will have audiences squealing – more than likely recorded their lines in a day. Oldman’s Lord Shen is well-drawn, though, a regal tyrant who can hold his own in a brawl. Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Haysbert also join the fun as Master Croc and Master Oxen, respectively, while poor Victor Garber gets the awesome character name Master Thundering Rhino, only to bite it within seconds of appearing.
It took guts for DreamWorks to leave the sequel to one of their most successful properties in the hands of a storyboard artist making her feature film debut (Jennifer Yuh, take a bow), but the choice turned out to be an inspired one. Yuh was the head of story on the first “Panda,” so she clearly had a vested interest in expanding the story line while staying true to the characters, and she’s done just that. One can’t help but think that the Pixar brass is that much more nervous about how “Cars 2” will fare in “Panda’s” wake, because this movie is going to be huge.