Kung Fu Panda was huge in every sense, $631 million at the worldwide box office and an indelible character amply voiced by Jack Black. This is a voice role that may come to define his career, even though he does not actually appear in a single frame.
Understandably Dreamworks Studios would be failing shareholders not to expand the franchise further and we now have the second film, in what almost certainly will become a trilogy.
Does the film suffer from mid trilogy bloat and irrelevance, well actually no. Everything is subjective but this is the equal or may even surpass in some ways, the original film.
Po Ping or Dragon warrior (Black) managed through his daring deeds and hopeless optimism to save “Kung Fu” in the first film, here he has a much harder task. Finding himself, reconciling his own adoption and achieving “inner peace” all the while fighting off the genocidal Lord Shen (Oldman) of Gongman City. Shen is intent on destroying everything and everyone to fill the emptiness, due to a lack of paternal love.
As Po would say, “It’s like, quite deep”.
As before, Po manages to complete daring feats and heroic acts, not so much out of bravery but by falling skillfully, more often than not led by his ample stomach in search of a quick feed. He does not do this alone of course, we have on hand his usual fighting crew. Tigress (Jolie), Monkey (Chan), Mantis (Rogen), Crane (Cross) & Viper (Liu), heavy hitting star power for a children’s animated movie.
We also have Shifu (Hoffman) returning as a “Yoda” like mentor and Mr Ping (Hong) as Po’s adopted father, who provides comic relief and some touching scenes in equal measure. The film tidying up the slight oddity of a Panda being the son of a Goose. Michelle Yeo voices the soothsayer that predicts Shen’s future, who may or may not be useful to his quest in equal measure. Even Jean Claude Van Damme gets a look in as Master Croc, which always looks good on your filmography.
It goes without saying that the animation and sound are top rate and the story unfolds in a natural way and does not feel conceived merely to extend the franchise. We wanted to know more about the character and here we explore Po’s past and why this new threat is so personal and debilitating to him, his own Kryptonite if you will.
What made the previous film really stand out was the hand drawn oriental style animation that interspersed the action, fleshing out stories told by the characters. Here we are again treated to similar sequences which lift the film to another level. For every child friendly chase sequence there is a tender scene which manages to appeal to adults without detracting from the onscreen colourful antics.
Will Po manage to vanquish evil again, find balance and reconcile his past, well the deviations from the norm can only be stretched so far but the journey is the thing and there is much to enjoy along the way.
Could well be the the best animated film of the year, Pixar have definite competition in this genre and perhaps mirroring the arc from Toy Story 1 to 2. If so, then the third outing could be special indeed.
Equalling or even eclipsing the first film, this achieves all the studio could have hoped for. Family friendly with a good heart, exquisite animation and a starry but well used voice cast.
Highly Recommended and as the tagline says, “full of awesomeness”.