Kung Fu Panda 2 (review)

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Harry and Voldemort. Jesus and Herod. Po and Shen? Yup. Jack Black’s (Gulliver’s Travels) sweet-faced, rumbly-tummied kung fu panda goes up this time out against Lord Shen (the voice of Gary Oldman: The Book of Eli), a megalomaniacal peacock who wants to take over China, and might just manage it, thanks to a powerful new weapon of his own invention. (Think fireworks, but nastier — you already know what it is.) But he also needs to stop Po, who has been prophesied to destroy Shen… or at least, one of Po’s kind was foreseen to bring Shen down, which is why Shen had all the pandas exterminated many years ago. If you foresee a connection to Po’s adoption by the dumpling-making goose Mr. Ping (the voice of James Hong: The Day the Earth Stood Still), you’re not wrong. As charming and gently agreeable as Kung Fu Panda 2 may be, screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, returning from the first film, haven’t really upped the ante like we expect a sequel to do — much of what transpires here feels so comfortable as to be overwhelmingly familiar, as if you might have seen this movie before and let it slip your mind — until the very end, with its hint of yet another sequel that has me highly intrigued. (We might almost have skipped over much of this story and gotten right to that promised next one.) What saves this from feeling like it should have gone direct to video is the animation, which is breathtakingly beautiful: this fantasy ancient China is gorgeously designed, populated with anthropomorphic animals that perfect capture in lovely stylizations their species-personalities (I love the bunnies!); and Po’s dreams, which spring out of delicate Chinese paintings, are simply stunning to look at. Thank first-time feature director Jennifer Yuh for a film that looks like nothing else on the big screen at the moment. I wish the story it was telling was a little more worthy of it.

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