Friday, June 17, 2011

TGD Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda 2

It’s been out for nearly a month now, but the wife and kids and I finally made it out to see Kung Fu Panda 2. I was pleased that this film did not decide to do the colon and second line of description in its title. Movies too often want to make the full title take up as much space as possible. The Transformers series is beginning to annoy with that. Megan Fox was your lead actress for the first two. This means that you were trying to keep viewers looking at the screen, not win an Academy Award for anything other than special effects. Just make it Transformers 2 and Transformers 3.

Reflecting the title, I entered the theater expecting a simple, funny kids film. What I saw instead was actually a moving and rich story of Po the Panda’s origin. It was done ten times better, in fact, than the unfortunate way that the origin story of Wolverine played out on the big screen. Come one, Deadpool ends up with everyone’s powers? Sorry, that still pisses me off every time I think about it. Let’s move past that and get more specific about Kung Fu Panda 2.

The Plus Side: Kung Fu Panda 2 does action right. You have fight scenes, explosions, high-speed chases and epic large scale battles. On top of that, however, there is humor. So often the humor is all about the timing and that always makes it feel clever. A funny line will jump into the dialogue and lighten the mood just as you think the movie is beginning to take itself too seriously. While blending action and humor well is about as much as you can ask from a kids’ film, Kung Fu Panda added a level.

I’m assuming most of you have seen the first movie at some point. I thought it was both humorous and odd that they danced around the fact that a panda is raised by a goose. I didn’t think for a second that the ignoring of that detail was a deliberate set-up for the second film.

The details of Po’s true origin aren’t tough to figure out but as you watch him figure it out, you actually find yourself feeling compassion for the big fluffy animated hero. To be honest, I had a tear in my eye more than once as Po struggled to accept the truth of his past, take control of his future and find his inner peace. It was a positive message for its young audience, one of hope and encouragement.

Finally, the voice talents in this movie were cool. Of course you have Jack Black and Angelina Jolie (whose voice doesn’t sound as disgustingly skinny as she has become) in the lead roles. Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, David Cross and Lucy Liu fill the rest of the Furious Five and Dustin Hoffman appears, albeit in a more limited capacity, as Master Shifu. Now add Gary Oldman. He voices one of the most believably evil cartoon villains I have seen in recent memory in Lord Shen. Making a peacock seem diabolically cold-blooded does not strike me as an easy task, but Gary pulls it off. Danny McBride, Dennis Haysbert, and even Jean-Claude Van Damme get into the mix, but my favorite is Fred Tatasciore. He fills the role of both Po’s father and a Gorilla Guard. He seems to pop up in voice credits a lot. His premier role has been the Hulk in Disney XD’s Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes series.

The Down Side: It’s still a kids’ movie centered around fighting. On top of it, ammunition is added this time. I’m not spoiling anything by letting you know that in the opening sequence we find out that the evil Lord Shen has harnessed gunpowder in order to use cannons and attempt to take over China and then the world. This results in a lot of shooting, a lot of punching, and a hell of a lot of kicking. But hey, it’s a kung fu movie. It’s no Kill Bill, you may have your children trying some new moves on one another after watching it.

The Wrap Up: In all, you have action, humor and a compelling story here that both kids and adults will enjoy. None of the action is too scary for little ones, but the violence obviously exists. If that’s not an issue for you, you have a 90-minute film that fills the time nicely and gives you a great family day in an air-conditioned theater away from the hot summer sun.

TGD Rating: 9/10 of a star. I liked it. I like it a lot. I think most of you will too. We didn’t do 3D but I took note of many potential scenes where 3D effects would have been awesome, so I think the extra few bucks might be worth it on this one. Enjoy.

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