Kung Fu Panda 2
The cinematic landscape is littered with sequels that failed to capture the charm of the original. And it is always a kind of balance: the creative originality can’t be duplicated, but any departure from it is a gamble, because the old characters may not excel in the new script.
Happily, “Kung Fu Panda 2” manages to strike a workable balance. The characters from the premier installment are still there, but this is a different type of adventure, though the persistent casualness of the main character, Po (the voice of Jack Black) still sets the carefree tone, and keeps all of it far less serious than it sounds.
Po, now a famous Kung Fu master through all of China , is still his bouncy, gregarious, approachable self. His best friends are the same ones who gave him such a hard time in the esteemed training school in the first installment, though it’s not really necessary to know that in this story. Po still visits his (adopted) Dad, in the noodle shop, but still wonders about where he really came from. Old, buried memories somehow come rushing back to him when he meets Lord Shen (the voice of Gary Oldman), who’s determined to take over China under his malevolent rule. Lord Shen amasses an aggressive army, and our little band of talented kung fu fighters are all that stand between him and his evil empire (yes, it feels a little like the Star Wars plot).
We figure we know how it’s going to end, but the unlikeliness of the scenario at least contributes a little surprise to the plot. In the particular screening which this reviewer attended, there was a technical glitch, and the film had to be freeze-framed a few times, and from that perspective, it was even more apparent what incredible art work is on display in this 3-D animation. Yes, the scenery is beautiful, even if it is, purely, computer graphic imaging. This adds to the likability of this adventurous animated tale.
Sure, there are some obvious politically-correct morals embedded in the story, like how it doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are, what matters is what you decide to make of yourself. Like it doesn’t matter if the people who raised you were not your “natural” parents, what matters is who loved you then, and who loves you now. And, of course, the importance of friendship that won’t disappear in the rough spots.
“Kung Fu Panda 2” really is embraceable by the whole family. Kudos to them for a sequel that works.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Co-Pastor, United Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas