A woman transformed into a giant after she is struck by a meteorite on her wedding day becomes part of a team of monsters sent in by the U.S. government to defeat an alien mastermind trying to take over Earth.
In the Valley of Peace, Po Ping is revelling in his fulfilled dreams as he serves as the fabled Dragon Warrior protecting his home with his heroes now his closest friends. However, Po and company learn that the murderous Lord Shen of Gongman City is threatening the land with a fearsome new weapon that could mean the end of kung fu. They attempt to stop him, but the panda is burdened with crippling memory flashbacks linked to this villain. Now with China in the balance, Po must learn about his past and find true inner peace against all opposition. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The original Kung Fu Panda is one of the only Dreamworks Animation films that actually holds its own in comparison to Pixar films. It managed to capture the look and feel of the classics old and new that martial arts film enthusiasts such as myself admire so much while also offering humor that was actually funny, fantastic animation, and just an incredibly entertaining film overall. It turned out to not only be one of the more enjoyable animated films of 2008, but one of the best films of that year period. So, here we are, three years later with Kung Fu Panda 2 resting on the horizon of its release that actually feels just as strong as the original without all of the endless shortcomings most would expect to plague a sequel.
When it comes to animated films, one of the most important ingredients is the cast. The voice cast can make or break an animated feature. A talented one can make it even better while a weaker one can result in it hurting the overall enjoyment of the film. Fortunately, the cast for Kung Fu Panda 2 is pretty spot on. The entire main cast (Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Lucy Liu, Dustin Hoffman, James Hong) returns from the first film and while it would be nice to see some of them have meatier roles and/or more lines (Jackie Chan and David Cross for starters), just having them return is fantastic. Casting changes between sequels are never really great. They can be pleasantly surprising, but it never feels the same. So it's great to see the entire ensemble back in full form. My personal favorite from the original cast is James Hong as Mr. Ping. The Asian American actor is perhaps best known as the villain in Big Trouble in Little China and was also Hannibal Chew in Blade Runner, but hearing that actor voice a goose who runs a restaurant and is so attached to his kung fu panda/China saving son is awesome in itself. Mr. Ping is an emotional wreck with Po putting himself in danger so often and Hong just makes his heartfelt performance stand out above the rest.
Newcomers such as Dennis Haysbert (Heat, "24") and Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Sunshine) were fun additions. Yeoh voices The Soothsayer, who has a few humorous moments with Lord Shen, but realizing that Jean Claude Van Damme voiced Master Croc gave a little more weight to the throwbacks to well-known martial arts films. That influence is definitely there in the Kung Fu Panda films and both of them use that influence as a crutch in the best of ways, but having talent like Van Damme, Jackie Chan, and Michelle Yeoh participate make it all feel a little more genuine. It'd be like bringing in Chuck Norris, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, or Sammo Hung. The cast in this is just as much a drawing factor in this as it is in something like The Expendables. It makes that homage mean so much more.
Gary Oldman practically steals every scene that he's in though. He brings that intensity and dark lunacy associated with his roles in Leon and The Fifth Element to the Lord Shen role; those same traits that made fans love his talent in the first place. He fits the role of an evil albino peacock rather well.
The animation is really the film's Tour de force. Every movement flows naturally and everything is so crisp and smooth. Fight scenes are so fast yet easy to digest. Animals talking, portraying human emotion, their hair folding in the wind all look natural. But the art direction of the film is something special. It was already fantastic in the first film, but they really bulked it up for the sequel. It's slightly reminiscent of "Samurai Jack" yet more awesome; more engrossing. It captures the feel of Chinese martial arts perfectly and the use of traditional animation during Po's flashbacks was an extremely welcome addition; having Guillermo Del Toro as the creative consultant on the film surely helped in their benefit.
Kung Fu Panda 2 is beautifully animated, exceptionally cast, laugh out loud funny, and nearly upstages the original at every turn. While certain things in the film like the "inner peace" bit are slightly predictable, it doesn't take away from the overall enjoyment of a sequel that capitalizes and improves on its predecessor rather than feeling like a watered down version of it.
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