The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Kung Fu Panda 2

I thought Kung Fu Panda was one of the most original and enjoyable animated features of the past few years. There have been dozens of talking animal movies in the animation realm, but that one found a unique milieu for its characters. It also had the benefit of being a solid anthropomorphic martial arts movie in addition to being terrific family entertainment. The sequel, Kung Fu Panda 2, is largely on par with its predecessor, meaning that fans of the original will likely be just as satisfied the second time around.

Great panda warrior Po (voiced by Jack Black) is tasked with saving kung fu when a grudge-holding villain, the peacock Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), plots to destroy all of China. Together with fellow kung fu masters The Furious Five - Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross) - Po sets out on a journey to stop Shen before he can unleash the devastating power of a weapon he created. After an initial confrontation, Po discovers that Shen also has information about the events that led up to a significant event in his life; Po knows he was adopted, but has never known the truth about what happened to his panda family. When he finds out, it makes him more determined than ever to protect his homeland.

Kung Fu Panda 2 brings back all its lovable characters, putting them in a story that addresses themes of belonging and the need to be proud of one's origins. I like how these issues are intertwined. Shen's role in Po's background is established in a way that allows the plot to seamlessly weave some emotional content into the action scenes. Sometimes I feel animated films force in "depth" as a way of pretending to be more substantive than they actually are. Like the Pixar movies, which also manage to come by their emotions honestly, Kung Fu Panda 2 has a plot that's been well thought-out for maximum effectiveness.

Visually, the sequel is a step up from the original, which was impressive itself. It takes even more advantage of traditional Chinese culture and architecture. The martial arts scenes are more elaborate than before, and a rickshaw chase through a crowded city is particularly impressive. Kung Fu Panda 2 makes superb use of 3D as well. While it's not imperative to see it in this format, many of the scenes are designed with height and/or depth in mind, thereby giving them an extra boost when viewed in 3D. The characters flop and fly around when utilizing their kung fu skills; at times, it feels like the camera is doing so right alongside them. The final showdown between Po and Shen is especially dazzling in 3D.

Kung Fu Panda 2 gives the supporting characters less to do this time, which is kind of a shame because they were so charming in the original. I also felt that the overall tone was a little more serious; there are laughs, but they aren't as constant as they were previously. But that's fine because, by and large, the sequel gets many more things right than wrong. As I said, it's very close in quality to the first one. And the first one was pretty darn awesome.

( 1/2 out of four)

Kung Fu Panda 2 is rated PG for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.