26th June, 2011
Kung Fu Panda 2
Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Review by Lee Hutchison
Bucking the trend of the overblown, under thought-out sequel, the second instalment of DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda proves highly watchable and thoroughly entertaining. Central character Po (voiced by Jack Black, who continues to assert his skills in the animation arena), continues his unlikely role as the Dragon Warrior alongside the Furious Five – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross). The ever-important villain role goes to Gary Oldman as vengeful peacock Lord Shen. His goal, with the help of his unstoppable new weapon, is to take over China, ridding it of the art of Kung Fu.
Although stopping Lord Shen’s master plan is the film’s main premise, Po’s quest for victory hinges on finding inner peace through resolving questions about his mysterious childhood. Such themes make me wish films of my own childhood had explored ideas this big as opposed to the Prince Charming-punctured, Disney domination my generation experienced. Although these films were thoroughly loved, I can’t help but question the unconscious effects of films like Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella which, for all their old-world charm and splendour, reinforced gender stereotypes and often provided less than positive role models. Although this recent directional shift may have resulted from a shrinking ideas pool, it’s nonetheless heartening to see films aimed primarily at children that increasingly explore more positive, varied and culturally diverse themes.
And although animation has changed immensely since my youth, Kung Fu Panda 2 demonstrates that a meaningful plot and coherent script will always stand the test of time. This is Kung Fu Panda’s first foray into the arena of 3D technology and, although well utilised, this new technique is merely icing on an already well-made and perfectly baked cake. Of note however, are the highly stylised dream sequences as well as the end credits, which move away from traditional ideas of 3D animation, giving the film a further level of visual charm.
The star-studded cast again continues with Dustin Hoffman reappearing as Po’s master, Shifu, while Jean-Claude Van Damme makes his KFP debut. The main celebrity muscle however (revolving around the Furious Five), is curiously underplayed. Perhaps the rumours that DreamWorks intends to add another three films to this franchise means they’re biding their time to fully really flex their star power. But regardless of the big names involved, if these films continue to develop as this chapter has, Po and his friends look set to provide enduring entertainment for a few years yet.
First published in Rave Magazine: http://www.ravemagazine.com.au/