Kung Fu Panda 2 joins the Mt. Rushmore of animated features

Kung Fu Panda 2 – 2011

Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson

Featuring the voices of Jack Black, Seth Rogen, Angelia Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Michelle Yeoh, Danny McBride, Dennis Haysbert, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Victor Garber, James Hong

Written by Jonathan Aibel, Glen Berger

The original Kung Fu Panda had an unforgettable opening sequence, portraying the dreams of the protagonist, Po.  It featured an incredibly visceral, and completely Chinese inspired style which lay in stark contrast with the film’s computer animation, which in and of itself was excellent.  The director of this sequence,  Jennifer Yuh Nelson, is the director of this film.  The choice could not have been more inspired.  Add to that, the production influence of Guillermo Del Toro, and you have a movie that completely surpasses the original.  In fact, along with Ratatouille, UP and How To Train Your Dragon, it joins what I consider to be the 4 best animated pictures of all time.

The beautiful, wile, and completely lethal Lord Shen.

This time around, Po is on top of the world, and his team, the Furious 5 have a wonderfully effective chemistry.  So of course he has to take a fall, in order to make a Campbellian journey.  This time, instead of finding a bigger version of the last enemy, they meet a peacock named Lord Shen (Oldman) who has, in his quest to succeed his father, reigned terror for years.  Once he discovers gun powder, the game has changed.

While fighting off Shen’s minions, who are on a quest to procure all the metal in the kingdom, Po has a flashback that leads to a temporary setback, from which he must make a quest to overcome.

The animation in this feature is among the bast I have ever seen.  It’s effectiveness surpasses the original through ingenuity and

Prelude to a masterful scene

cinematography.  In particular, the overhead scene with the parade dragon is not only funnier than anything else in the 2 films, but  one of the most uniquely inspired perspectives I have seen in an animated feature.  Add to this the cart chase through town, the boat launch,  and  some wonderfully inspired dream sequences,you have a memorable masterwork of animation.

A cart chase extraordinaire.

The voice work in this movie is better than the first, but only through addition of some wonderful voice acting talent.  Ian McShane was perfect as Tai Lung, but Oldman is beautifully oily as Shen.  Haysbert, Garber and Van Damme add some depth as guards to the kingdom.  Danny McBride is perfect as Shen’s number 2.

The best thing about Kung Fu Panda 2 is that none of the jokes seem stale or overused.  There is a continuity, but it feels coincidental, more than anything.  That is perhaps because, aside from one comment about his greatest enemy being the stairs and a few references to noodles, this film stands on its own.  In fact, there are many better lines in this film than most comedies released in the last few years.

The first film was a wonderful achievement, eminently re-watchable and as good-hearted as a Kung Fu movie can get.  This one, a tad darker, but just as kind in spirit, is better.  This is a must watch, for any fan of animation.

(*****)

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