Thursday, June 2, 2011

Movie Review: Panda Finds Inner Peace

Kung Fu Panda 2 movie poster, image property of Dreamworks.
Kung Fu Panda 2 AWESOME!

It’s not often that a sequel outshines the original, but in my opinion Kung Fu Panda 2 was a shining improvement on an already likable film.  It had kung fu action, plenty of laughs and a lot of heart.  And boy did it have some beautiful animation!

Jack Black stars as Po, the fat and fluffy panda bear who unexpectedly became The Dragon Warrior in the first film.  He works alongside The Furious Five—Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Monkey (Jackie Chan)—to  protect China from any possible threat.  When informed by their mentor Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) that China—and even Kung Fu as they know it—is threatened by an evil peacock named Shen (Gary Oldman), Po and the others embark on a dangerous mission to stop him.

The story gets interesting when we discover that Shen has a personal vendetta against Po.  An old soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh) had prophesied years ago that Shen would die at the hands of a panda.  In order to stop the prophecy from coming to pass, Shen killed all of the pandas in China… or so he thought.  Po is the only one left that can stop him.  The evil doesn’t stop there of course.  Peacocks were the inventors of fireworks, but Shen has found a way to use the principles of fireworks to his own wicked advantage.  He has created what is essentially the first gun ever, and with it he plans on destroying Kung Fu and taking over all of China.

The emotional core of the movie involves Po searching for the truth of his origins.  He realizes that his father, the goose Mr. Ping (James Hong), cannot really be his biological father.  I mean, Po’s a panda after all.  And when Po sees Shen’s henchmen for the first time he has a brief flashback of his past… a past involving his mother.  He soon becomes consumed with curiosity of the circumstances surrounding his birth, and when he discovers that Shen knows something about it he seeks answers from him.  This makes their battles all the more intense.

My favorite thing about Kung Fu Panda 2—aside from the surprisingly deep and intriguing story—was the use of various animation styles!  No less than three!  The beginning opens with a kind of 2D animation that evokes the feeling of shadow puppets.  Very beautiful.  It explains the back story of Shen.  Po’s flashbacks and memories are also shown through the use of 2D animation in a different style than the opening.  This style is similar to the opening of the first Kung Fu Panda movie.  Stylized and simplified, yet graphic and gorgeous.  I really loved these scenes.   Then, of course, the majority of the movie is computer animation full of dimension and vibrancy.  The fight scenes were choreographed beautifully and the locations were full of breathtaking detail.

The best scene is where Po finds inner peace, doing a rhythmic sort of martial arts while controlling a drop of rain, letting it roll over his body like a small ball.  This scene is intercut with the 2D animation showing his mother running through the woods with baby Po in her arms.  It’s hard to explain in words, because it’s something so visual!  The result is dramatic and emotional and just so stunning.  I was very impressed.

The strength of the movie came through its humor and its animation.  Dreamworks is definitely working its butt off to compete at Pixar’s high level of quality.  Technically, Dreamworks is doing amazing things, but their storylines still don’t connect as personally as Pixar’s do.  Kung Fu Panda 2 got really close… perhaps the closest they’ve come since How to Train Your Dragon… but they still lag behind.  They are closing the gap, however, especially with Pixar’s Cars 2 looking less than promising.

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