'Kung Fu Panda 2': Awesomeness is back, with more heart

The Orlando SentinelMay 26, 2011 

Po, voiced again by Jack Black, is joined by a group of bunnies during a wild rickshaw chase in Kung Fu Panda 2. The sequel goes for more heart and fewer laughs than the original.



    'Kung Fu Panda 2'

    PG for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence. 88 min. DreamWorks Animation. 2D: Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Movie Tavern, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester, Winchester/Sky-Vue, Woodhill 3D: Fayette Mall, Georgetown, Hamburg, Movie Tavern, Nicholasville, Richmond, Woodhill.

It takes longer for the awesomeness to arrive. And you can't really replicate the element of surprise that the first movie had — a fanboy panda who gets to team up with his martial arts heroes. But Kung Fu Panda 2 is a sequel that delivers more heart than laughs and is, if anything, more visually dazzling than the 2008 original film.

Cuddly, plush Po (voiced by Jack Black) is now a reasonably competent Dragon Warrior, a sixth member of the Furious Five, meting out justice with his mad kung fu skillz. But there is a new threat: a preening peacock who covets all of China and has a new weapon, "one that breathes fire and spits metal," a weapon whose arrival on the scene "could be the end of kung fu."

Po and Co. have a quest: Stop Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) and destroy his weapon. But first, Po's mentor (Dustin Hoffman) has a new life lesson for him: Find inner peace.

Black has fewer lines with the gonzo gusto of the first film, just the odd "My fist hungers for justice!" But the soul of Panda 2 is Po's real quest, the one that gives him flashbacks every time he sees Lord Shen's peacock-feather emblem on the wolves that are the villain's minions. "Where did I come from?" he asks.

A dumpling-loving panda raised by a wok-wielding goose has to figure out sooner or later that he's adopted.

Artist-turned-director Jennifer Yuh, head of story on the first Kung Fu Panda, sees to it that this sequel is both more striking — cut-out shadow puppets for the opening credits, 2-D flashbacks to Po's childhood — and more Confucian. When the evil megalomaniac Lord Shen asks his soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh, as a goat) for his fortune, her answer applies to greedheads of any age: "The cup you choose to fill has no bottom."

There are wonderful grace notes in this script, as befits a movie with a distinctly Buddhist bent.

The chases are 3-D wonders, the martial arts brawls are "severely cool," as Po would put it. But the stunt voice casting doesn't pay off. Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Seth Rogen and others don't have enough lines to make an impact. And it takes a solid, stolid half-hour to finally get to that first string of laughs, that first blast of flip, funny awesomeness.

Still, Panda 2 has more heart-tugging moments than any Shrek sequel. Which is why we're almost sure to see more of tales of Master Po.

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