Thursday, June 2, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

Fun, but blatant and obvious, this animated sequel has the titular panda, Po, joining forces with the legendary "Furious Five" to prevent an explosive-launching peacock from conquering China. My main issue with the first movie, namely the lack of actual screentime with the Furious Five (wasting voice talents like David Cross, Lucy Liu, and Jackie friggin' Chan is pretty lame), is inherently addressed in this one; the film is, essentially, a "men on a mission" movie, with Po and the Five fighting baddies together for the bulk of the film. And in that sense, it totally works, moving energetically from set piece to set piece, while taking the time to slow down and let the characters round themselves out into more than merely figures of Po's id. This entry also expands on the relationship between Po and his adopted father, marvelously voiced by MR. DAVID LO PAN (James Hong), achieving some poignant, if obvious, moments with them by the film's end. The baddie, a sinister, insecure peacock voiced by Gary Oldman, is appropriately menacing and engaging, although not up to the viciously evil standards set by Ian Mcshane's panther character from KFP 1. While it can be easily dismissed as lazy, hammy work, Jack Black slips into this role like a glove; it optimally utilizes his energetic, childish vigor without ever hinting at his more subversive, stoner-y tendencies (which, I should mention, fellow cast member Seth Rogen can never mask). The rest of the cast is rounded out by Angelina Jolie, Danny McBride, Dustin Hoffman (whose role is sadly truncated here), and Jean-Claude Van Damme (!!!), all of whom are appropriately invisible and engaged.

My biggest gripe with the film remains, expectedly, the way it deals with its ancient Chinese backdrop. For every sweet, killer idea they introduce (the various members of the Furious Five use the fighting styles of their corresponding animals), they subvert it with something juvenile, inappropriate, and obvious (Po shoving as many steaming buns into his mouth as possible). The whole tone of the film has taken a step into the wrong direction, making more accessible for, not only younger audiences, but more international ones as well; babies and China haters alike can dig this movie. The wuxia elements of the film are too-often relegated to backgrounds and costumes, rather than motifs or mood; even the Furious Five's fight scenes are often abbreviated and, unsurprisingly, focused on Po. The recurring theme of Po finding his "inner peace" comes off as very simplistic and unremarkable given the excellent spiritual wisdom relayed to Po (and his master) by the wise, late turtle character in the original. And relegating Dustin Hoffman's wise (rat) master to little more than a bookending cameo is (such as the near-deletion of Hoffman from Little Fockers) a tragic error in judgement, with his snarky, deadpan musings remaining just as crucial to the franchise as Po's excessive girth. However, although it is not up to par with the original, or (clearly) anything Pixar has made (since Cars), KFP 2 is definitely a fun, family-friendly flick that will probably not depress the parents that must watch it with their kids instead of seeing The Hangover Part II.

Recommended to fans of the original or of the more adventurous, engaging Dreamworks flicks like How to Train Your Dragon or Megamind (which features a superior turn by David Cross). It is slight, quick-paced, and funny; for many audiences, what more could you ask for?

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