Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011) / Animation-Action

MPAA Rated: PG for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence
Running Time: 91 min.

Cast (voices): Jack Black, Gary Oldman, Angelina Jolie, James Hong, Dustin Hoffman, Michelle Yeoh, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Danny McBride, Dennis Haysbert, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Victor Garber
Small role (voice): Paul Mazursky
Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson

Screenplay: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
Review published January 30, 2016

Po the panda (Black, Year One) is the new Dragon Master who has become legend for his heroic deeds in his defense of the Valley of Peace.  But his training with Shifi (Hoffman, Little Fockers) isn't done yet; Po's next achievement in his training will be to achieve inner peace.  However, Po's flashback-infused mind remains troubled as long as he doesn't know what ever became of his biological panda parents.  As Po squares off with the latest adversary in the evil albino peacock named Shen (Oldman, The Book of Eli), whose gunpowder-infused cannon invention is set to take over China and which may change the nature of warfare away from the ways of martial arts, Po learns that Shen may have knowledge of what happened to his panda ancestors.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is a darker but still skillfully made follow-up to the original hit Kung Fu Panda, and smartly does so without being a mere regurgitation of the original formula, written by the same screenwriting team of Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger.  Taking over the directorial duties is first-time feature helmer Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who made a smaller contribution by directing  the notable opening dream sequence for the 2008 film, and for supervising all of the action sequences. 

It's still a formula film, as we've seen a hero who must quest to find out about his past in many films before, but at least Kung Fu Panda 2 manages to find new wrinkles to make it seem fresher and more exciting to adults to enjoy along with the younger kids who are new to the traditional storytelling elements. It's also visually stunning from an animation and art design standpoint.  Character action is fluid and seamless, while the fight scenes are colorful and beautifully choreographed to maximize on its kung-fu premise, which shows why Nelson had been tapped to direct, given her experience in the action-animation arena

All of the voice actors are back, though some may be disappointed by how little dialogue is given to the members of the Furious Five who, outside of Angelina Jolie (The Tourist) as Tigress, have barely any lines of dialogue at all.  It's uncertain if they bothered to come in for a day, or if they just went with unused line-readings cut out from the first film.  It's quite a crowded movie to allow for every character to have moments to shine, but the intended audience of younger children are hardly likely to mind less talk and more action anyway, so it's hard to lob this as a complaint for anyone not specifically watching so they can hear the voice of one of their favorite actors.

Kung Fu Panda 2 delivers all of the goods you'd expect, with enough wisecracks, slapstick, action, animation, art, and story elements to sate fans of the first film, and does it with enough spit and polish to engage those who just enjoy eye-popping visual escapism.

Qwipster's rating:

2016 Vince Leo