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How clever of the creators of Kung Fu Panda 2 to wrap their inevitable sequel to the 2008 box office hit in an origin story.  I love origin stories.  Who isnít interested in how that character you love became that character you love?

In the days since the overweight panda Po was revealed to be the legendary Dragon Warrior, joining his martial arts heroes, The Furious Five (- minus Grandmaster Flash) to protect China against evil, life has been pretty sedate. Training is still a daily task that Po stumbles and bumbles through; the quieter Zen concepts taught by the ever-exasperated Master Shifu meant to promote the inner peace necessary to truly be a master go way over the simple pandaís head.  In another part of the country, a new threat rises as a young noble decides to take a larger stake in the leadership of China. The peacock, kung fu master Lord Shen wants to put the kibosh on any practice of the art, using his own skills backed up with the might of a deadly cannon to make him the most powerful threat in the world.  Po discovers a tragic connection to Lord Shen that weakens him and throws him off-track, imperiling his entire team.  Can Po get to the bottom of his tie to Lord Shen in time to stop this enemy from conquering China

As is the way of most sequels, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a slighter shadow of its hearty sire, dependent on the goodwill felt toward the original film to pave its way.  The script for Kung Fu Panda 2 is not as sharp, clever or funny as the first film, nor is the action as bombastic.  There is a very touching element in Kung Fu Panda and itís the theme of family; the one a person is born with and families of oneís making.  The standout for me in Kung Fu Panda 2 was the relationship of Po and the only father heís ever known, noodle shop owner, Mr. Ping.  Years ago, the kind-hearted goose took in a voraciously hungry baby panda hidden in a turnip box and raised him as his own.  Surrounded with such love and care, Po had never suspected that a large panda having a small goose as a parent wasnít exactly normal, until Lord Shenís insignia triggers a long-suppressed memory.  Poís past is equally moving and the sacrifices made by his birth parents made me a little misty.  The animation is still pretty and lushly rendered in this sequel, but my biggest complaint was one that I had for the first film and that was the terribly sped up fighting scenes.  The filmmakers have clearly spent time carefully designing the motions for each of the characters and I donít understand why itís filmed so fast, wasting all that effort?  Are they afraid it will be too scary for kids?  Lord Shen, the white peacock, whirls about like a dervish, alternating his wide, beautiful tail as both shield and weapon with moves that make Jet Li look like a wallflower.  Itís very frustrating to watch when it has every potential to be gorgeous. 

Thereís quite a bit about this chapter that seems rushed besides the action sequences; Poís relationship with Shifu and the Furious Five doesnít seem to have developed much since the first film, nor have Poís skills as the Dragon Warrior.  Most of Poís funny moments still hinge upon his weight and inability to keep up with the team.  Even my inner eight-year-old found this tiresome before long.  I actually wished for more scenes involving the Furious Five or found myself waiting until sweet Mr. Pingís return.  Claiming some genuine martial arts movie cred, this chapter features some voiceovers from not only Jackie Chan returning as Furious Five member Monkey, but Jean Claude van Damme as the Chinese alligator, Master Croc, who, like his alter-ego, who can drop into a vicious split at the drop of a yuan.  Michelle Yeoh also appears as a wise goat with ESP, whose prophecy about the young Lord Shen sets him on his mad course of destruction.  Gary Oldman nails the preening, vain Shen wonderfully and I wish there had been more of him.

Great voice cast aside, Kung Fu Panda 2 pales beside its snappier sire, but itís entertaining enough and the younger ones in the audience will still eat it up with chopsticks. 

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

May 26th, 2011

 

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Paramount Pictures)

 

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