“Toy Story 3” gets the awards-season glory, “Shrek” stands as the most successful animated series of all-time, but I confess one of my favorite CGI flicks of the last several years remains 2008’s “Kung Fu Panda.” Even when I catch snippets on TV, Jack Black’s wild, panda abandon never gets old. The fight sequences manage to be both creative and LOL-inducing. And, as my 10-year-old cousin can attest, there’s a potent moral hidden within that’s a bit cheesy but also super truthful.
But in breaking down a film into a cinematic laundry list, we shouldn’t miss the overall point: as a whole, “Kung Fu Panda” is just so much darn fun. And that’s exactly what the sequel is too: a blast. Here are five reasons why you need to check out “Kung Fu Panda 2.”
At the end of the first flick, Black’s Po becomes the Dragon Warrior, an all-powerful, skadoosh-delivering badass. That doesn’t leave, it would seem, much room for a compelling character arc in a second film: he’s already the One, so what challenges can he possibly face? The nifty trick filmmakers pull in the sequel is two-fold: one, Po is now a dope kung fu master, but he’s still a tubby goofball, at times able to lay a beatdown on some baddies, at others unable to be anything but a bumbling fool who hasn’t yet managed to acquire the grace that only a lifetime of training can bestow; and two, the plot organically draws him into questioning his past and eventually searching for an answer about how he came to be raised by a noodle-slinging goose named Mr. Ping. These dual challenges infuse Po’s every move with purpose and, more often than not, hilarity. Po is a more driven and confident hero this time around. He’s also a more compelling character.
“Po, you’ve got to make the nooooooooodles!” Mr. Ping’s frequent and melodically hilarious missives to Po, reminding his adopted son about the family’s true calling, made the goose into a breakout character in the original. Mr. Ping is back for the sequel, and voice actor James Hong makes the most of the opportunity. He whips up noodle soup as easily as he dispenses sage advice. Their father-son dynamic may take place in ancient China, but its message is one to which contemporary audiences and fans of “Teen Mom” can certainly relate.
Dispensing with the limitations of physics and bodily harm, the fight scenes in “Kung Fu Panda 2″ are thrilling and funny as hell. For instance, Po races through the Chinese streets on a wooden cart, fighting off enemies with two paws and popping off self consciously tough-guy-isms the entire time. Then in the midst of the climactic battle, he climbs to a rooftop and attempts to talk a whole lot of smack — only no one can hear him from so far away; it’s a subversive bit of action-movie parody, both clever and comical. The same can be said of the entire movie: it mixes wit with comedy, and the result is delightful. Gary Oldman’s paranoid, insecure villain — an albino peacock named Lord Shen — also provides some eye-popping firepower, thanks to his invention of a cannon that threatens to destroy kung fu and bring China to its knees.
I say this as a fan of most everything Black does on screen: Po is the actor’s finest character. Sure, Black was a surprising scene-stealer in “High Fidelity” and his slack-jawed teacher in “The School of Rock” showed that he can headline a winning comedy. But Black doesn’t always remember that often on screen, less is more. Po allows him to show off his vocal talents and his every-dude personality, yet the performance is subject to the strict creative oversight of director Jennifer Yuh and her animators. Skadoosh, indeed.
Jean-Claude Van Damme
Question! Have you ever wanted to see this ’80s action star as a karate-chopping reptile? If you answered yes, you’re in luck because it’s a hoot to see Master Croc kicking butt and sounding straight out of “Bloodsport.” If you answered no, well, you’re dead to me.
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