A weekend featuring the premieres of sequels of crazy successful movies. crazy successful movies that we happen to love. We already discussed ‘The Hangover Part II’ with the faithful, which in all honesty wasn’t even a sequel but a remake, with our hope being that ‘Kung Fu Panda 2’ will turn out better than that one. The good news is that this is a worthy sequel to ‘Kung Fu Panda’ being that it’s bigger and stronger and has more action and the animation is even better than the first film, a movie that had some of the best animation we had ever seen at that time. But something’s missing. It’s still wildly entertaining, don’t get me wrong, but something was missing.
The last time we saw Po (voiced by Jack Black) the fat panda had just become the Dragon Lord, or whatever they called it, that he was destined to be, and had completely dispatched with the totally evil Tai Lung. Now fully at ease with being the Dragon Lord, not to mention the local rock star status that comes with the honor, Po and the Furious Five protect the land with their awesome Kung Fu skills.
But there’s trouble. Across the way the evil peacock Shen (Gary Oldman) had raided the bit city of… I forget… and has the nerve to challenge the rulers of this city. Just so you know, Shen’s peacock style Kung Fu is sick. But as good as he is he knows he can’t defeat Master Ox (Dennis Haysbert), Master Croc (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Master Rhino (Victor Garber). That’s why he brought a big ol' gun. Apparently Shen’s family invented fireworks back in the day and Shen being all evil and stuff amped up the firework concept and has gone and created a WMD the likes of which Animated China has never seen.
When Master Sifu (Dustin Hoffman) got the news what happened to his master homies, he dispatches Po and the Furious Five to set things right and restore the honor of Kung Fu because the word is that this big gun is the Kung Fu Killer.
As you might imagine adventure and action will ensue in a grand way, but there are issues. For starters we know that Mr. Ping the Crane (James Hong) isn’t Po’s biological father, so where did Po come from and what happened to his people? Apparently Shen knows full well what happened, and it is Shen’s knowledge of these events that causes all kinds discombobulation in Po’s simple brain. Think somewhere along the lines of the story of Moses with Shen representing Pharaoh.
All we know is that Po has to get his brain un-discombobulated because Shen and his big guns are on a mission to bring China to its knees, and he will succeed in this unless the fat panda can locate his inner peace and let the past go. Something like that.
I tell you, it is simply amazing the things that they can do on a computer nowadays. It seems that every time we see a new animated feature I’m convinced that the artist behind the scenes can’t do anything to make it better looking, until we see the next one. I’m convinced that there can’t possibly be a better looking animated film than ‘Kung Fu Panda 2’. The water effects, the character textures, the character motions, the foliage… it looks better than real life. If it wasn’t for the fact that the movie featured fat talking pandas and peacocks and bunny rabbits you would think it was real life. Kudos to the digital artist at Dreamworks SKG.
These amazing images are put to good use because ‘Kung Fu Panda 2’ is a thrill a minute fun-ride with action sequences that are almost non-stop, plenty of animated kung fu fighting, plenty of fat panda humor and lots of stuff that blowed up real good. I don’t like the title though. ‘Kung Fu Panda 2’ is just too plain for my tastes and instead Dreamworks should’ve opted for something more colorful, say like ‘Kung Fu Panda: City on Fire’. And since Dreamworks Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg plans to make six more of these, simply going along chronologically and ending up with a title like ‘Kung Fu Panda 8’ just won’t do.
But what’s missing from this sequel, in relation to the original, is the character interaction. Sure, the original had action and kung fu fighting and fat panda humor, but what made that movie work so well was Po’s relationships with the other members of the Furious Five as he learned to become what he was going to be, particularly his relationship with Dustin Hoffman’s Master Sifu. Those elements gave that animated movie far more heart than you would expect out of an animated film. This time around, while Sifu and the Furious Five are still here, they aren’t nearly as important as these characters are pushed off to the side. In their absence, the heart of this movie has been replaced by frenetic action and explosions. And… well… Panda Genocide. Be prepared to have a far too early conversation with your young children on what a holocaust is.
But there are people out there who prefer frenetic action and explosions to heartfelt animated character interaction. I wouldn’t be one of those people, but they are out there. But I don’t think anybody prefers Panda Genocide, at least I hope not. Regardless, ‘Kung Fu Panda: City on Fire’ is still an insanely entertaining movie. I didn’t even mind having to suffer through it in 3D wearing an extra set of glasses. If the greatest criticism I can lob at this movie is that it’s not as good as the first one, then that’s really not much of a criticism considering there are an awful lot movies, animated or otherwise, that come up short when compared to the first ‘Kung Fu Panda’. Not made by Pixar. Hey, I didn’t just change the title did I? Oh well, my title is better anyway.