Kung Fu Panda 2
All-star cast of familiar voices returns for animated sequel
Starring Jack Black, Angelina Jolie & Jackie Chan
Directed by Jennifer Yuh
Rated PG, 90 minutes
In a summer already crammed with sequels, Jack Black and his “Kung Fu Panda” cohorts set off for a second adventure, this time in 3-D.
Black is perfectly cast as the voice of Po, the roly-poly protagonist of the title, squaring off against a power-mad peacock (Gary Oldman) with an evil pyrotechnic plan---and holding onto a terrible secret about Po’s past.
The A-list cast from the first “Panda” (2008) is all aboard. Angelina Jolie (Tigress), Jackie Chan (Monkey), Seth Rogan (Mantis), Lucy Liu (Viper) and David Cross (Crane) again provide the voices of Po’s formidable kung-fu comrades, the Furious Five. Dustin Hoffman reprises his role as the wise martial arts master Shifu, coaching Po along his path to power through self-awareness.
The spectacular sets, of an ancient Chinese wonderland populated entirely by animals, teem with color, texture and detail, often making you forget you’re watching animated backdrops instead of the real deal. The frenetic action scenes zig, zag and zip, sometimes so fast it’s difficult for the eyes to keep up. The characters all have distinct personalities that come through in their movements, facial expressions and dialog.
Although there’s nothing inappropriate for kids, parents should know that this “Panda” is a bit darker than its predecessor, perhaps a calculated attempt to nudge Po and his exploits into the more grownup cinematic territory of “Lord of the Rings” or Harry Potter. The subplot, about Po’s search for answers to his unknown past, provides a rich emotional hook---and a definite setup for yet another sequel.
Like the best animated movies, this one works well on multiple levels. Children will giggle at the antics of Po and his pals, cheer on the hyperactive fight scenes, and cower as Oldman’s dastardly peacock, Shen, readies his dark, menacing army of wolves and gorillas for battle.
Grownups will appreciate the movie’s heart-tugging messages about family in Po’s quest to find out where he’s from, how he came to have a goose for an adopted father, and what happened to his real parents.
And anyone with an antenna for symbolism and social relevance will pick up the signals in the movie’s depiction of how colorful fireworks, things of beauty and wonder intended for celebration, are transformed into weapons of mass destruction by the sinister Shen.
The storyline often feels like it’s following a bit too closely to Hollywood’s familiar build-a-plot playbook, but “Panda 2” packs more than enough personality and visual pizzazz to make up for those shortcomings.
Chopsticks for your popcorn, anyone?