Dreamworks Animation may not have the same track record as Disney Pixar in terms of the quality of their movies, but they sure have been giving it the good ol’ college try. With titles like KUNG FU PANDA and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON Dreamworks has proven they can churn out high quality family entertainment that has some visually striking animation both in the small details and in some exciting action sequences. KUNG FU PANDA 2 continues that level of entertainment and maintains a level of humor that both kids and adults can enjoy and also boasts some impressive action sequences.
In the sequel, Po (Jack Black), the chubby but loveable panda is enjoying his duties as the dragon warrior and defending the village from any threat. Word gets to Po and the rest of the gang, Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen) and Viper (Lucy Liu) that a devious peacock, Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), has seized control of his old village and has his sights on taking over China. It’s up to Po and the gang to stop Lord Shen while Po also struggles to find out where he came from.
I wasn’t in love with the first KUNG FU PANDA but I loved the character of Po. I’ve also got a soft spot for animated movies so while the first film wasn’t an instant favorite I still found it very fun and endearing. The one thing I’ve loved about both the KUNG FU PANDA movies is Jack Black’s voice behind the chubby but loveable panda Po. The rest of the voice acting is passable with the exception of Seth Rogen as Mantis and Dustin Hoffman as Shifu. In KUNG FU PANDA 2 the addition of Gary Oldman as the movies main villain Lord Shen is more than welcome. Oldman’s voice lends a great deal to the life of the character while a lot of his minions dawn some pretty suspect voice acting. None of the voice acting is intolerable; some of it just isn’t as enjoyable as others.
The humor is all very kid friendly and the kids will like get a huge kick out of scene that features Po and the gang dawning a dragon costume and the hijinx that follow. Adults will also get a kick out of the humor too though, as none of it is overly immature and fit for those with small attention spans; there are plenty of clever laughs to be had as well. The other endearing aspect of the original and the sequel as well as most animated movies is the message they try to push across. In KUNG FU PANDA 2 the message is just as universal as it gets and that’s that no matter where you came from the journey to where you’re going is what matters most. Lots of the original is evident here as well, given that Po still must overcome the low expectations of his appearance in order to remain the skillful Dragon Warrior.
KUNG FU PANDA 2 does substitute a lot of the structure from the first film with a more action driven story. What happens because of this is instead of a more subtle relationship building story from the first film, the story we learn here is usually very brief and sometimes even in the middle of an action scene. Given that it’s a sequel it’s not surprising the more subtle story telling belongs to the original and things get amped up a notch for the sequel. I don’t find that the KUNG FU PANDA suffers as a result of this though.
I reference the comparison to Dreamworks Animation to Disney Pixar earlier, which is somewhat unfair as they are two different brands and subject to personal preference. No doubt Pixar produces some very detailed and beautiful films, which is not meant to imply Dreamworks doesn’t do the same. Both KUNG FU PANDA and KUNG FU PANDA 2 are beautifully animated as was HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. I think the biggest difference is that Dreamworks’ animated titles look and feel much more like a cartoon. This is not a negative thought however; KUNG FU PANDA 2 achieves great things with the swirling colors and fireworks on screen and the action is beautiful to watch because of it. I found the animation in KUNG FU PANDA 2 to be very detailed both in just the set and character designs, but also in the frenetic action scenes.
KUNG FU PANDA 2 is not just a good reason to get the family together and enjoy a movie; it’s a great way to let go, smile and be excited all at the same time. The Dreamworks sequel doesn’t necessarily improve on the first, in many ways it has the same heart as the first but with a much different style. Jack Black continues to be the endearing and loveable voice of the bumbling but adorable panda, Po and the addition of Gary Oldman as a villainous peacock is an enthusiastic welcome. Kids and adults alike will find plenty to laugh or giggle at and the beautiful action scenes are also a big draw. KUNG FU PANDA 2 isn’t perfect, but it is funny, it is cute and it is a heck of a lot of fun.