I was always skeptical of the Dreamworks movies: they always seemed like noisy, cloying, poorly characterized, imitations of Disney / Pixar animated features with scatalogical jokes Walt wouldn’t have allowed. It was only during Lauren’s recovery from an appendicitis that I was able to get around to seeing “Kung Fu Panda” which I wound up enjoying very much.
I had held off because a little Jack Black goes a long way, and the notion of Black taking himself “over the top” in an animated form was a bit too much to bear. But Black’s Po was subtle (as Black can be, when he wants) and while geared for children was a character I enjoyed seeing grow to be the hero he had always dreamed of.
The artwork of KFP2 shows great maturity within the Dreamworks SKG art-technology. The CGI world occasionally brings in other styles of animation: cel-style animation for flashbacks, Chinese-style puppet shows. The real stars of the film are Po, Tigress, and the beautifully lethal villain peacock, Shen (voiced perfectly by Gary Oldman). Po, the dragon warrior from the first film, is fighting raiding bandits when the insignia borne by one reminds him of his childhood before being adopted by his lovable goose father Peng. Unsurprisingly the answer to this question draws him nearer to the evil he must destroy (Shen) and requires him to reflect and absorb the Kung Fu lesson granted at the beginning by his master Shifu.
It’s a real visual treat with a great story and wonderfully animated crowd scenes (a cart chase, a scene where our heroes sneak through town beneath the cover of a Chinese dragon). My only complaint is that many of the characters didn’t get much of a chance: Monkey, Viper, Crane, Shifu, and even Peng are strictly supporting cast and the audience doesn’t benefit from the fact that their voices are Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Dustin Hoffman, and James Hong.
Even the formidable Tigress (voiced by tigress Angelina Jolie) gets very little screen time. What she does get, with Po, counts, but the speaking parts are Po, Shen, and the soothsayer billy goat voiced by kung fu legend Michelle Yeoh.
Nevertheless it was a great deal of PG fun.