DreamWorks Animation is happily billing Kung Fu Panda 2 as a film offering “twice the awesomeness” of the original. That original, a solid hit for the studio three years ago, was happily received, although few, I’d argue, would outright champion it as awesome. Nonetheless, it had no shortage of fans, and further adventures were always on the cards.
And there’s good news here. Kung Fu Panda 2 is a happy equal to the perfectly enjoyable original, if not slightly better.
This time around, the panda of the title, Po, once again voiced by Jack Black, is searching for inner peace. He’s searching for inner peace for a reason, as he needs it to be able to beat the evil peacock (you read that right), Lord Shen.
Shen is on a mission to destroy kung fu, and has big, mean plans to rule over all of China, with the aid of his unstoppable weapon. That unstoppable weapon is a canon. And more to the point, it’s a canon that happens to fire very sparkly cannonballs. These things are known to be dangerous.
For a series of reasons, then, it’s left to Po to defeat Shen, and in order to do so, he’s got to go back to his roots. Part of the film then sees him on a search for his aforementioned inner peace, as he goes on a voyage of discovery to find out just where he came from. This allows the film to advance its backstory through a series of stylistic, interesting cartoons, in much the same manner of the original film.
These cartoons allow the animators to vary the style of the film a little, but even without that, Kung Fu Panda 2 looks simply stunning. The scenery is exquisite and the animation itself looks and feels state of the art. There’s a genuine feel that no expense has been spared in making the film gleam.
While often criticised for the more conventional elements of their films, there’s one thing you can’t level at DreamWorks Animation, and that’s that their movies never look less than glistening. The standard has been lifted again right here.
The voice work, too, is generally strong. It’s as star-spangled as DreamWorks Animation movies tend to be in this regard, and that’s sometimes a frustration. Yet, it’s a decision that works in Kung Fu Panda 2‘s corner. Because, in the shape of Po, it gives Jack Black his best cinematic role since the original film. Bluntly, you could paint Jack Black in panda paint and you’d get Po there and then, so fused is the character with the actor’s approach and style.
This does work, too, as does the welcome addition of Gary Oldman. He gets to lend his dulcet tones to Lord Shen and is clearly have a ball doing so. He injects the necessary levels of menace, and Shen comes across as a traditional boo-hiss villain, but a good one.
The voice cameo of note, though, is Jean-Claude Van Damme. He’s roped in to play Master Croc, and while you’d hardly call his vocal range particularly broad, he’s a bang-on fit for the role here. Angelina Jolie, as Tigress, makes less of an impact.
As for the overall film itself, there’s little in the way of significant innovation here. Instead, what all concerned have aimed for, and achieved, is a fine way to entertain a family audience. Kung Fu Panda 2, therefore, ups the comedy ante significantly and successfully, happy to throw a succession of jokes at the screen. And while it’s not a radically different film from the original (and it doesn’t really have much of a compelling story to tell), it is as equally an entertaining one.
Expect it to be a solid hit, and with some justification, too. And expect Kung Fu Panda 3 to pop along in the summer of 2014. On the basis of this one, it should be worth looking forward to.