22 September 2015 | C22Man
Kung Fu Panda has its Empire Strikes Back
Kung Fu Panda 2 is pretty much everything a sequel should be. It builds upon its characters, it crafts a plot that is larger as well as more personal and its themes are even deeper than before. It sees Po (Jack Black), who has now been fully accepted by the furious five, forced to battle against a peacock named Lord Shen who plans to conqueror China with a new weapon. It doesn't seem like much on the surface, but Po begins to have flashbacks of why his parents abandoned him and it links directly back to Shen himself. Stories like this are brilliant because the set-up and main goal is relatively simple, but there is a very heartfelt and surprisingly emotion core to the film that is just fantastic.
This feels like its Po's story, and it might annoy some people that the other characters aren't developed more, but for me it was the right move. It makes you always engaged in the journey that he goes through, you want to know what happened to his real parents and he grows as a hero as a result of everything that he goes through. Po himself is again a lot of fun and it impresses me how well balanced the character is, being naive but lovable at the same time with Jack Black adding his usual drive to the role. The furious five are still are really enjoyable team and I think the writers did a great job in giving them all the right amount of lines as well as making them a team you can connect to. Master Shifu has a more limited appearance, but he's still good fun when he shows up.
Arguably the best thing is Lord Shen (Gary Oldman). This is a villain who is both intimidating and really funny, and so many times it's either too much of one or the other yet here they get it spot- on. He is never too serious and he is never too goofy, it is a perfect balance. He has a backstory that explains his actions and connects to Po's spiritual journey. The animation on him looks marvellous and Oldman is absolutely brilliant as usual.
I think one of the main reasons the film works so well is because of the emotion impact it has. The characters all have legitimate reasons for what they are doing and they're feelings as well as flaws are shown fully. The scenes with Po and his adoptive father Mr. Ping (James Wong) are really touching as well as being amusing. The flashbacks are truly moving and even tear inducing. I believe it shows that you can be serious and even somewhat sombre if you can get the balance right. The jokes are consistently funny here, mostly due to Po's behaviour and a lot of Shen's lines. Once again with DreamWorks the animation is absolutely superb with this being some of their sharpest and most vibrant that they have ever produced. Pretty much everything from character designs to the scenic shots of ancient China look fantastic. The more 2-D style in Po's flashbacks is also a nice touch and helps it standout. The speed of the animation is another plus. When it is used for slapstick the quick pace makes everything seem even funnier, and it does a similar thing for the action scenes by giving them even more energy. The score (by Hans Zimmer and John Powell) is another positive, crafting the right amount of soothing melodies and backing the action effectively with some more upbeat compositions.
I think balance is the key word here and it is where Kung Fu Panda 2 succeeds. The story itself is an excellent continuation and the way it unravels as the film goes on is just wonderful. It has plenty of comedy and well placed humour, but it never shies away from darker and more emotional material. I found myself both moved and laughing in equal measure. As said I think the main characters are all great, the animation is spectacular and the villain is outstanding. It is exactly what you want in a sequel and I can't wait to see where the series goes next.