Title: Kung Fu Panda 2
Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure
Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Screenwriters: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
Starring: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Cha
Kung Fu Panda 2 trounces its predecessor by embracing and even flaunting its own insignificance. In tone, this rollicking sequel is the closest any animated film has managed to come to Disney’s brilliant The Emperor’s New Groove, which also made gleeful absurdity its main selling point. Here’s a rare example where amping up a sequel — making it louder, crazier, more frenetic — led to something positive.
The first film, three years old now, annoyed me by retreating to cookie-cutter kiddie platitudes about “being yourself,” “we’re all special in our own way,” etc., whenever it threatened to get off the ground. The sequel doesn’t have this problem; in fact, it’s one of the least pedantic family films to come along in a while. When it does get a bit message-y, the message is surprisingly dark and tough-minded, about facing the pain of your past to transcend it and improve your present. And the screenplay doesn’t even push that nugget very hard, wrapping it in a running joke about the titular warrior’s quest for “inner peace.”
Kung Fu Panda 2 is funnier. It’s chock full of frantic martial arts action, but instead of devolving into a visual assault, the fights and chases are energetic and clever. They add a dimension of fine-tuned visual humor to the plentiful verbal gags courtesy of Jack Black, who returns as the voice of the panda. The film’s highlight, if not it’s centerpiece, is a long sequence in which the characters navigate a town center concealed inside a goofy-looking Chinese dragon parade float. It’s a marvel of timing, bringing back fond memories of the costumed chase scene at the end ofThe Pink Panther.
The movie was made for 3D and it shows. After my truly miserable experience enduring the post-converted murk of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, how great to watch something that uses the technology as a tool rather than an extortion scheme. The film doesn’t attempt to be “immersive,” or provide some sort of visceral theme park ride experience; it actually sets the action in different planes, which then interact with each other. If there’s a future for 3D, it will look like this.
Kung Fu Panda 2 is, in other words, a worthy distraction. If there’s a problem it’s that the film confuses weightlessness with indifference. I love its absurdist flourishes — ancient China populated by karate-chopping talking animals; a malevolent peacock villain; a surprisingly blunt fortune-telling sheep; the weird obsession with noodles. But none of it really makes an impression beyond moment-to-moment. In truth, I don’t have much of an idea what Kung Fu Panda 2was about, on the most basic story level, and the movie doesn’t seem to care. It’s content to flash before your eyes and then dissolve.
— Eugene Novikov