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The Independent Critic

VOCAL WORK BY
Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Gary Oldman, Dustin Hoffman, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Seth Rogen, James Hong, Michelle Yeoh, Victor Garber
DIRECTED BY
Jennifer Yuh
SCREENPLAY
Glenn Berger, Jonathan Aibel
MPAA RATING
Rated PG
RUNNING TIME
90 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
DreamWorks
DVD EXTRAS
Kung Fu Panda 2 movie
- Sneak peek episode of the upcoming Nickelodeon TV series “Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness"
- Filmmakers’ Commentary
- Meet the Cast
- World of DreamWorks Animation
 "Kung Fu Panda 2" Review 
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Po (Jack Black) is living it up as the Dragon Warrior alongside the Furious Five - Mantis (Seth Rogen), Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Crane (David Cross) and Viper (Lucy Liu) in the Valley of Peace when a formidable foe, Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), shows up determined to destroy kung fu and conquer China with his secret weapon.

It was a given when Kung Fu Panda became a box-office hit for DreamWorks that it wouldn't take long for another kung fu adventure to hit the big screen. To the credit of director Jennifer Yuh, Kung Fu Panda 2 is actually an improvement upon its predecessor thanks largely to DreamWorks apparently having learned from How to Train Your Dragon that an animated feature need not be filled with pop culture references in order to be successful with both critics and at the box-office.

That said, Kung Fu Panda 2 starts off weakly and a good half-way through the film, the punchlines indicating a critical slaughter were already starting to form in this critic's brain as the dialogue was stilted, the action sequences predictable and the humor surprisingly flat. Then, something happened and it would appear that Yuh figured out just exactly what kind of film Kung Fu Panda 2 was supposed to be.

While Kung Fu Panda 2 certainly contains the obligatory silly humor and action sequences, once Po's inner adventure really begins to take shape the film itself really starts to blossom. A better title for the film might be Po's Traumatic Stress Disorder, as Kung Fu Panda 2 is, at its very essence, a tremendously heartfelt and emotionally resonant film about Po's journey towards understanding and overcoming his childhood traumas that begin to be revealed when his father, Mr. Ping (James Hong), acknowledges that Po was adopted (which sure helps to explain why dad's a goose!). There are certainly laughs to be found within these scenes of self-discovery, but somewhat surprisingly they are not actually played for laughs. As we begin to learn more and more about Po's upbringing, there's an honesty and poignancy to the adventure that brings far more depth than we're used to seeing in a DreamWorks film.

It may sound like Kung Fu Panda 2 is a bit too adult for the kiddoes, but Yuh does a fairly decent job of balancing lively and vibrant action sequences with the film's more serious themes. The dialogue, co-written by Glenn Berger and Jonathan Aibel, largely manages to get across its adult themes without compromising its appeal to those younger kids who are coming to see the kung fu-fightin' panda.

Kung Fu Panda 2 really benefits from the vocal work of the likes of Jack Black, David Cross and Seth Rogen, all gifted voice actors with an ability to be both self-deprecating and remarkably sincere. Animation is a fantastic outlet for Black, whose facial expressions tend to be so larger than life that sometimes his live-action performances come off as sarcastic rather than sincere. With animation, Black is able to bring his characters fully to life while the animation team takes care of the rest. Black's Po starts off the way he left off in Kung Fu Panda, but by film's end Black has managed to give us a character far more complex and alive than a good portion of live action characters coming out of Hollywood this year.

Gary Oldman serves up a similar impact as Lord Shen, a villainous peacock with unresolved mommy and daddy issues whose discovery of gunpowder is the biggest threat the Valley of Peace has ever faced. Oldman has long ago proven that he's capable of playing quite the villain, but here he creates both the humor and heart needed to give his animated baddie tremendous substance.

Kung Fu Panda 2 may very well register even more satisfyingly for those with traumatic childhood and/or coming from adoptive backgrounds, for whom the film's themes about overcoming the past and learning how to redefine family will be especially powerful.

While it takes Jennifer Yuh a little while to figure out how to balance both the child-like qualities and the mature themes contained within Kung Fu Panda 2, when she does the film becomes one of DreamWorks Animation's most satisfying animated features yet. There's no question that Kung Fu Panda 2 pales in comparison to even the weakest of Pixar's offerings, but it offers clear evidence that DreamWorks learned its lessons from How to Train Your Dragon and is finally creating films that talk to children rather than at them.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic
    The Official Rating Guideline
    • A+ to A: 4 Stars                
    • A- to B+: 3.5 Stars            
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    • B- to C+: 2.5 Stars           
    • C: 2 Stars
    • C- to D+: 1.5 Stars
    • D: 1 Star
    • D-: .5 Star
    • F: Zero Stars

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