Anyone who knows me will find out soon enough that I am a massive Pixar fanboy. No other computer animated movie came close in my esteem to Pixar's works for many years, but lately I have quite enjoyed some other outings by different studios, such as Cloudy with A Chance Of Meatballs and Rango. It seems the industry is finally catching up, but the one thorn in my side the entire time has been Dreamworks. I have never really fully enjoyed a Dreamworks CGI movie. Until now that is.
I vaguely remember watching the first Kung Fu Panda a couple of years ago, but it never really stuck in my mind. Sure, it wasn't awful, but it obviously wasn't particularly great, as I lumped it into the regular Dreamworks pile of silly slapstick, stupid facial expressions and random 80s songs thrown in to make adults chuckle. Needless to say I wasn't prepared for the sequel to be anything special either. I even decried its trailer in a review earlier this week.
Kung Fu Panda 2 picks up where the first left off, with Po (Jack Black) now firmly recognised as a Kung Fu master. But another threat is on the horizon in the form of Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), a peacock with a particular obsession for fireworks who wants to take over China. It's up to Po and the Furious Five to stop him.
There is not much of the silly slapstick in this movie, nor is there a lot of Jack Black being Jack Black. We've already gotten the bumbling fool out of the way with the first movie, and now Po has to be a somewhat competent character, and it's pretty refreshing. There are still some silly moments, but they are overshadowed by such new wonders as character progression and well crafted action sequences. Po's backstory is explored in some detail in this movie, and it adds an emotional element to the movie that was not present at all in the first. The voice actors all do a pretty good job in their roles as well, especially Gary Oldman as the villain, who at times seems to be channeling old school menacing villains like Aladdin's Jafar.
The action is often very well done. While the first movie dealt with lucky shots and slapstick, the enemies are a lot more competent and menacing this time around, and the fights and escapes require some kind of thought process behind them, and the result is a lot of pretty good action scenes. Perhaps it's the inclusion of some great names in the production credits, but Kung Fu Panda 2 is a well made piece of cinema. Music by Hans Zimmer, produced by Guillermo Del Toro, and even some uncredited writing by Charlie Kaufman. Kung Fu Panda 2 is by no means completely perfect, it still hangs onto some of the old Dreamworks roots, but it is without a doubt my favourite Dreamworks movie so far.
My rating: 4/5