Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

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Photo: DreamWorks Animation

The majority of the story in Kung Fu Panda 2 is told in the short sequence before the titles in which it’s revealed the dastardly peacock Lord Shen (voiced by Gary Oldman) plans to takeover China and destroy kung fu. Cue Po (voiced by Jack Black), the titular Kung Fu Panda, and it isn’t long before he and the Furious Five — Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Monkey (Jackie Chan) — are seen rushing off to “save China” and “save kung fu.” And… that just about does it.

Banking hard on the characters created in the first, and much better, installment, Kung Fu Panda 2 is perfectly adequate, but there isn’t much to it. It plays more like a 30 minute Saturday morning cartoon stretched into a 91-minute feature. While bits of Po’s back-story are revealed early and scattered throughout, for the most part this is just one extended chase scene. Maybe the lack of story wouldn’t bother me as much had what little story there is didn’t seem so rushed in an effort to merely get a sequel in theaters with an eye for a Kung Fu Panda 3, which is clearly the driving force behind this film based on the out-of-nowhere final scene.

Scripted by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger — the same guys that brought us the first film — the character development here is all dependent on what we already know. Where the characters have grown or changed in some regard the story either forgets about these changes, such as Tigress’ strange behavior, or has a hard time presenting them, such as Po’s ancestry, which actually plays a large role in the film.

You’ll hear many people cooing at how cute baby Po is as we get glimpses into how he came to be raised by a goose rather than his biological parents, but the way it is presented is disjointed and clunky. The story is stripped bare to a point any additional information seems out of place. And then there’s the plot that ties all of this to Lord Shen, which is where I started to lose a lot of interest.

You see, Lord Shen is this evil peacock and his plan for conquering China involves the creation of this massive weapon, giving him the power to do whatever he wants as part of a grudge he’s holding for past insults that I won’t get into here. However, along with the conquering of China, it is decided this weapon will also destroy kung fu, the implication being you can’t kick or punch a canon of this size. Yeah, because that would destroy kung fu. What?

Now I know I’m supposed to let this slide. It’s a cartoon, what did you expect?! Stop taking things so seriously! Not everything can be an Oscar winner! I’ve heard all the lazy excuses before, so instead of pointing out any logic problems I may have with this idea, I’ll simply say that had the story been more engaging I probably wouldn’t have keyed in on the fact it didn’t make much sense in the first place. In addition to that, outside of Shen, which is actually a rather cool character with the perfectly matched voice of Gary Oldman, there wasn’t much that felt all that new with this film.

Besides Shen and Michelle Yeoh’s voicing of The Soothsayer, there aren’t any new characters added to the mix that provide any kind of punch. The highly anticipated voice work of Jean-Claude Van Damme as Master Croc is a complete flop as he and Dennis Haysbert as Master Oxen are wedged into the story for only the briefest of moments. I honestly don’t think Van Damme had more than five lines, which puts him about right on par with Jackie Chan’s voicing of Monkey.

Directed by Jennifer Yuh in her first feature film gig after working in the animation department on the previous Panda pic and DreamWorks’ Madagascar, the ebb and flow of the picture felt like the work of a newcomer. Of course, she wasn’t aided by the script, which didn’t do much more than move from one chase to the next, with a few flashbacks inserted to try and break up the monotony.

I don’t say most of this with any real passionate dislike as much as I’m just disappointed. Kung Fu Panda 2 is a fine movie, but it’s certainly nothing special. It feels like one of those films that was made purely because the first film was such a big hit and this film should be just as equally successful considering it is relatively harmless and never really tries to achieve much at all. In short, it’s a safe film for the widest appeal. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, though I would have liked to see a little more effort.

GRADE: C+