At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Kung Fu Panda 2

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Kung Fu Panda 2

MPAA Rating: PG/ Genre: Animated Martial Arts- Comedy/ Voices of: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Danny McBride, Gary Oldman, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, James Hong, Michelle Yeoh, Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Haysbert, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Victor Garber, Jackie Chan, Fred Tatasciore, Lauren Tom, Conrad Vernon/ Runtime: 91 minutes

Well that was a fun time to be had by all! I say this because Kung Fu Panda 2, somehow someway, actually manages to be just as good if not better than its predecessor. Not only that, but it even managed to set the stage for a riveting third film courtesy of an ingenious conclusion in this one, a conclusion that makes the promise to completely restructure quite a few dynamics amongst the characters of this series. With that being said, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a continuation of the tale of Po, a fluffy panda who serves as the fierce Dragon Warrior with his equally skilled fellow Kung-Fu artists The Furious Five and their stoic teacher Master Shifu along for the ride. Yet despite what you may think due to any preconceived notions, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a film that is actually about developing its characters whilst offering audiences a delightful sense of humor and some truly engaging action moments. Yet while the superficialities at play in this film are quite fun to watch, I still think it is safe to say that Po has become one of the more well-rounded, pun intended, characters in an animated film in a while. Indeed for a character that on the outside is simply a fluffy martial artist with a love for food, wild shenanigans, and a severe lack of timing when it comes to banter, it is quite extraordinary to see him on the inside be shaped into a delightful character with a complicated past, genuine emotion, and a heart as big as his stomach.

The plot is as follows: An even longer time ago in ancient China, there was a noble family known as the Peacocks, Lannister had even by this time been taken, who were the rulers of a place known as Gongmen, a well-to-do locale that was soon notorious for inventing an item known simply as fireworks. Yet the heir apparent to this family of nobles, a young male peacock by the name of Shen had other ideas and saw in the fireworks the chance to acquire the power he craved at any cost. Finding themselves desperate to thwart their son’s mad rule, Shen’s parents went to a seer who gave them the prophecy that their son would ultimately be thwarted by a hero of black and white. Thus Shen, having learned of the prophecy and assuming that this conqueror would be a panda, soon ordered the annihilation of the species, but as a result was banished for his decisions. Now, years later and ready to fulfill his vow of vengeance, Shen has found a way to harness the firework’s power and constructed a tool that can not only deliver truly destructive projectiles at a high rate of speed, but is also powerful enough that not even kung fu could thwart it. Thus when word of this gets back to Master Shifu, he has no choice, but to ensure that this weapon is decimated. To that end, Shifu turns to Po for this particular assignment, but not before letting Po in on the secret to achieving success both in life and in kung-fu: the realization of inner peace. However, as Po and the Furious Five set out to defeat Shen, Po begins getting blindsided by visions from his trauma-filled past. Yet as painful as it maybe for our hero, it is a past that not only must he remember, but comprehend and come to terms with should he not only desire inner peace, but also to best Shen and uphold the awesomeness that is the power of kung fu.

Now I think it should be pointed out that Kung Fu Panda 2 really does make for a wonderful showcase for just what can be truly amazing about animated movies nowadays due to how spectacular it looks. Indeed from Wall*E to How to Train Your Dragon to Toy Story 3 or 4, it really does seem like the work in the animation department has become better than ever, the worlds the characters live in more fleshed out than ever, and most crucial of all, the characters themselves are better constructed. Suffice it to say then that the work of the animation department is but a slice of the pie when it comes to making a fantastic animated film. Rather, much like this film possesses, it also takes top-notch narratives, ingeniously-constructed casts of characters, and an on-point set of values which help make these films more purpose-driven and still quite engaging cinematic fare that work in synchronicity with the terrific work in the visual department. To that end, it should be noted that the primary reason this film works on the level that it does is because it finds that perfect happy medium between humor, action, and character construction. Yes it’s the first two that get the most laughs and gasps out of the audience, but it’s the last one which makes this movie a true slice above the rest due to no more and no less than heartfelt and relatable pathos that truly helps develop a character that could have easily simply been a caricature, and turns him into a character worth rooting for. Indeed, much like how Shifu tells Po in this that “anything is possible when you have inner peace,” I think it should be obvious by the end of this film that this is a philosophy which the filmmaking crew has taken to heart and as a result made this franchise into something truly special.

Now the main reason that this film is able to get in all of the terrific development of its characters is because at this film’s heart, it is an origins tale more than anything. Indeed instead of just making the first one again and just putting in some new jokes and a new antagonist, the writers instead have chosen to make Po a character that is not just a punchline waiting to happen, but rather a three-dimensional character with an intriguing arc and wonderful future to look forward to as well. Yes a lot of animated films try to give a heartbeat and a purpose to the characters that make up their worlds, but what Kung Fu Panda 2 has done here is give audiences a character to care about not because he’s a fluffy panda, but because he is as real as either you or I. Yet it isn’t just the lessons that he learns and the greater comprehension of the world around him that he gains which make Po a terrific and engaging character. It is also the fact that he is constructed on the powers of both heart and belief; not just in himself, but in the greater good as well.  Yes he most certainly is not on the same level physically as Shifu or The Furious Five, but what Po lacks in regards to physical skill, he most certainly makes up for it with heart, passion, integrity, and genuine determination. Make no mistake he can do some truly incredibly physical things, but Po is more about being the best with what he has and who he is at his core. Thus I think it is safe to say that Po is the hero that lives in each and every one of us that reminds us that, even when we don’t think we are capable of being our best, is there to show us how we can.

Waxing on the philosophical side of things aside, I guess you’ll also be happy to learn that Kung Fu Panda 2 is still a truly engaging film even when not taking into account the arc that Po has in this. Indeed much in the same vein as Po not having yet encountered a dumpling he didn’t want to devour, this film also has never found a joke that didn’t make the audience at least chuckle. I say that because this film has a delightful sense of humor, a lot of it courtesy of moments where Po tries to play hero only to quickly and hilariously learn that his various exclamations and actions might not go according to plan. Also of note is the fact that this film’s moments of action are just as delightful as its moments of comedy. Indeed they’re the best kind for this genre since they’re riveting, but not terrifying, will work for all ages, and are crucial to the film though not the main thing keeping the film together. Also yes the narrative is fine and engaging enough, but it should really come as no surprise to learn that it is the quest that truly is the heart of a film in this vein, and here, that quest is about the trio of things that have already been gone into earlier in this review. Finally the voice work in this series continues to be absolutely top-notch though top honors still must go to Jack Black who is truly terrific as Po. Indeed Black manages to do a wonderful job of showcasing a terrific comprehension of what makes Po such a wonderful character and his talent for giving even the most serious moments in the film a just under the surface sly and subtle sense of humor as well as his seemingly perfect execution of the comedy in the film still makes for the finest positive this character has going for him. Yes, the remainder of the cast works well, especially Gary Oldman as antagonist Shen and Dustin Hoffman as Po’s stoic teacher Master Shifu, but as to be expected Black definitely and most deservedly overshadows the work done by his equally as talented co-stars in this one.

All in all Kung Fu Panda 2 truly is a fantastic film that is just as engaging and entertaining as its predecessor, but just as crucially, it is way more skilled at developing its cast of characters. A feat that is made possible due to the movie withdrawing just enough from the humor that existed in droves in the first film and trades it for a more dramatic narrative that helps mold the character of Po internally whilst the first one was concerned with who he was externally. Be that as it may be though, this film is still quite hilarious, and nearly every joke lands where it is supposed to, but this movie is still better off when it focuses on character moments that have the potential to make Kung Fu Panda 3 a quite potent film complete with pathos, spot-on comedy, and jaw-dropping action to spare. As for whether it did or not….that’s another story. On a scale of 1-5 I give Kung Fu Panda 2 a solid 4 out of 5.