Kung Fu Panda 2

I am a 20 year old male.  This would make me the perfect demographic for a raunchy comedy (such as The Hangover: Part II which I did like).  Nevertheless, Kung Fu Panda 2 was the best sequel released during the past week.  This is how amazing this film really is; a film that can be enjoyed by any age or gender.

Kung Fu Panda 2 follows Po (Jack Black) and the Furious Five (Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu and David Cross) as try to defeat an even more dangerous threat.  A threat that might destroy kung-fu: An evil peacock (Gary Oldman) has discovered gunpowder.

Jennifer Yuh Nelson (surprisingly her first directing gig) is the director of the film while Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger return from the first film for writing duty.  A major compliment to this creative team is that this (and not The Hangover: Part II) is the only film that deserves to have a "part 2" added to its title.  This is a film that not only expands on minor aspects of the first film (such as the joke about Po's father being a goose) but does justice to the first film while still being its own entity.  It is truly a perfect sequel, which (if you look back at the history of animated sequels) is a rare thing to witness.  The greatest accomplishments by this creative team (most specifically Jennifer Yuh Nelson) are the action scenes.  These action scenes are some of the best you will see in any film or year (animated or live-action).  They are perfectly timed, choreographed spectacularly, and visually stunning (the escape from the falling tower and a fight between our heroes and group of battle ships near the end are of particular note).  My only complaint with the film is that the film goes at a no break speed for the half of the first film.  The pace doesn't allow the audience to take the film completely in and some quieter moments are greatly missed.  Luckily, the second half of the film slows down to a much better pace.  Some others may complain about some of the potty humor and child orientated jokes as being negative aspect of the film.  I think they are missing the point that the main audience of this film are children.  They should be happy with the fact this film tries to cater to all age groups (there is a great family story, breathtaking action sequences, some melodramatically sweet moments, and a few funny moments).

The voice cast is amazing for this film and even better than the work that was done in the first film (which is surprising me because Ian McShane does not return for this film).  Jack Black continues to do the best work of his acting career with his work as Po.  He is perfect as the fish out of water and the role does wonders for him by toning down his sometimes annoying antics.  It would be better if Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu and David Cross could get more speaking time as members of the Furious Five, but Angelina Jolie deserving gets the most speaking time of this group of characters.  Dustin Hoffman continues to surprise as Master Shifu.  You would think they could have done better with casting the voice of a sage-like role, but Hoffman continues to prove he was the perfect choice.  The real highlight of the cast, however, is Gary Oldman as Lord Shen as he once again proves why he is referred to as a chameleon actor.  His voice is almost recognizable as the deranged peacock.  I have to give major props to Oldman for making me forget the void left by Ian McShane.  Oldman not only fills it, but might have pulled off better villain than McShane.  It was also fun to stay for the credits and realize who some of the smaller roles were voiced by.  I didn't even realize Danny McBride was in the film until the film had ended.

The behind the camera aspects of the film were mostly good.  The editing was phenomenal and I really liked the transitions between the 2D animation in the flashbacks to the 3D animation in the present day scenes.  The cinematography was pretty good (especially during the action scenes) but the film (like the first one) could have done without the slow motion scenes.  The aural aspects of the film left much to be desired.  The sound designers tended to overdue it with the sound effects and mix with this film.  I could have done without the overly loud yelling during the slow motion scenes.

Kung Fu Panda 2 was a film that quickly put some doubts in my mind (would ever slow down to let me take the whole film in?  was it possible to replace a presence as big as Ian McShane's?) but by the end left me more than satisfied.  In a world where animated sequels fail to live up to the quality of their predecessors, this film is the exception.  I can't wait for the third installment (and if the final scene indicates anything, there will be).


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