Kung Fu Panda 2 * * *

Genre: Animation

Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson

Writers: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger

Voice Cast: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Angelina Jolie,  Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, David Cross, Lucy Liu, Michelle Yeoh, Jean Claude Van-Damme

Running Length: 90 minutes

Synopsis: In Kung Fu Panda 2, Po (Jack Black) is now living his dream as The Dragon Warrior, protecting the Valley of Peace alongside his friends and fellow kung fu masters, The Furious Five (Angelina Jolie, Jackie Cham, David Cross, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu) .  But Po’s new life of awesomeness is threatened by the emergence of a formidable villain Shen (Gary Oldman), who plans to use a secret, unstoppable weapon to conquer China and destroy kung fu.  Po must look to his past and uncover the secrets of his mysterious origins; only then will he be able to unlock the strength he needs to succeed.

Review: Two words encompass what Kung Fu Panda 2 would mean for most cinemagoers – crowd-pleaser. Although it doesn’t even try to deviate slightly from the formula set in the first film, and perhaps exactly because of this, Kung Fu Panda 2 has a lot of ticks in the right checkboxes. It’s a beautifully animated, consistently funny film with a good number of well-choreographed action set pieces that will be able to entertain both children and adults (more the former), despite being very light on plot and completely wasting the numerous A-list stars found in its voice cast. Somewhat surprisingly, I found myself enjoying Kung Fu Panda 2 even more than the original film, which, believe it or not, means this franchise shares a common trait with the Godfather movies.

Jack Black, despite his manic intensity and crazed performances, is not always an asset to a movie (case in point: Gulliver’s Travels), but as the voice behind Po, it is a partnership that works very well. Perhaps it’s because we never really see Jack Black in the flesh, and the panda persona is actually far more cuddly and crowd-friendly than his real self. Gary Oldman is a new addition to the voice cast, but is perfectly in his element as the central villain in the film, and his nuanced vocal delivery helps to give Shen some much needed dimensionality. The same cannot be said of any of the very well-known actors who have lent their voices to the film, especially when a few of them have literally nothing more than a handful of lines to deliver.

The world of Kung Fu Panda 2 is lushly detailed and richly coloured, which really needs to be seen without 3D glasses and their dimming effect to be fully appreciated. Coupled with the facts that pretty much nothing significant happens in the third dimension, and that some of the action sequences can be quite hard to follow in 3D, there’s very little reason to shell out more to watch this film in 3D.

Although Kung Fu Panda 2 does try to introduce a little pathos with the somewhat clichéd origins story behind both the villain and the protagonist, the plot is not the film’s strong suit. There also seems to be a rather ill-advised attempt to create some romantic tension between Po and Tigress, which seems rather out of place and never gets resolved fully – perhaps it’s waiting for a second sequel. However, the film is so entertaining with its witty banter and action sequences that the little flaws pretty much cease to matter. This isn’t a revolutionary animated film by any measure,  but it’s entertaining and accessible, and is the most family friendly film to be released this summer season so far.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)

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