Monday, July 18, 2011

3 paragraphs on Kung Fu Panda 2

2011, Jennifer Yuh - cinema (sans 3-D)

My reaction to Kung Fu Panda 2 was much the same as it was with its predecessor, mild enjoyment mixed with general indifference, but time has endeared the first film to me in my memory, and as the months have passed since viewing the second, so too has it been viewed more favorably in the cinema of my mind. I believed the first in the series to feel somewhat... slight. Perhaps, as an occasional watcher of classic Shaw Bros. style eastern action movies, this is a result of familiarity of style. But as time wore on, that's what warmed me to it, the understanding of its homage, as well as a greater understanding of what it contributes newly, namely a wonderful cast of characters, as well as beautiful animation and great all-ages entertainment.

The sequel, upon first (and currently only) viewing is as slight, even moreso. With exception of Po, the titular kung-fu panda voiced by Jack Black, the supporting characters all take a backseat, as both the A-story (Po's confidence issues) and B-story (Po's lineage) belong to the main character. Only the villain - a nefarious, wanna-be conqueror peacock Shen, voiced by Gary Oldman - and Tigress, voiced by Angelina Jolie, get anything resembling character exploration. That said, the remainder of the Furious Five, Master Shifu, additional masters voiced by Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Haysbert, Shen's lackey voiced by Danny McBride and his oracle voiced by Michelle Yeoh all fill out the surrounding film nicely. Po's dad (here, finally revealed in an essential plot point to be his adoptive father) voiced by James Hong is great but, considering the prominence of that B-story, doesn't have a large enough role, nor do the Furious Five have enough to do.

Despite the rather narrow focus on a singular character, the film, and series, is ceaselessly charming. Ancillary works -- like the Kung Fu Panda Christmas special from last season and the Secrets of the Furious Five bonus disc which came with the first movie's DVD release -- have built the world of Kung Fu Panda beautifully, to the point where its become an identifiable and welcome franchise that can continue to entertain its audience as it ages while welcoming new, younger viewers as well. Apparently Dreamworks is looking at a six-film series total, which, if quality persists, isn't a bad thing.