by Tim Ross
“Is that all you got?” asked my 5-year-old, Connor, as he watched one of the climactic duels between Po (Jack Black) and the evil Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) in “Kung Fu Panda 2.” To be sure, Connor wasn’t asking this capable cast nor the filmmakers or animators if that was all they had, because this sequel has plenty.
The same blend of child-friendly animation and adult-friendly humor is just as present here as in the original. The all-star cast is back with Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogan), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross) as Po’s warrior friends.
The writing team of Jonathan Abel and Glenn Berger is also back and that might be the best part of this strong follow-up to the hit original. The dialogue is crisp, the jokes are original and there are many occasions where the writers give parents something to laugh about, too.
The sequel retains much of the same formula that worked in the first installment. Po is still chubby, still a step or two behind – physically and mentally – and he’s still a funny foil to the serious warriors all around him. The difference now is Po also knows Kung Fu and he uses it to protect the valley where he and The Furious Five (his fellow warriors) live.
Soon, a new enemy emerges: Lord Shen, who’s mastered the use of gun powder, but his aims are for conquest and not fireworks. Po and his friends head out to face Shen, but Po must fight another surprise enemy – his past.
In a bit of either lucky or insightful script construction, the plot of “Kung Fu Panda” told us nothing of Po’s past, so they had free rein to pen his backstory and construct the entire sequel around his childhood. Along the way, there are lessons about the love of a parent, belief in one’s self, the courage to follow one’s destiny and the power of friendship.
Director Jennifer Yuh and her cast treat all these lessons with skill and humor.
The more Po learns, the more he grows as a warrior and a person – err – panda. It’s a coming of age, rite of passage and redemption story rolled up into a funny animated movie with effectively implemented 3-D.
Yuh and the filmmakers also mix up the medium as they use several different animation styles including anime, flashbacks, puppetry and even video game references.
The only eye-rolling moment in the film came at the end when it became crystal clear that “Kung Fu Panda 3” is likely already in the works but then that’s the new Hollywood way. And if it’s as good as this one, it’ll be a welcome sequel.
Grade: 3/4 stars