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“Kung Fu is dead!” Or so the rotund hero is told in this second installment of the Kung Fu Panda series from DreamWorks Animation, which itself is not taking the threat seriously, as the company is reportedly already mapping out plans for five entries in the franchise. Nor will the box office returns for the new film inhibit such long-range thinking, as the enhancement of 3D as well as a deeper, more involved storyline mark this as a slight improvement on the 2008 original, which raked in some $633 million worldwide.
Creating ever-more compelling villains always represents a challenge for ongoing film series, from James Bond to Batman, so the introduction of a slim peacock who not only claims that, “China will be mine!” but also intends to eliminate kung fu, represents a real force to be reckoned with.
At the same time, returning screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger have nicely used the title character’s search for his real father to provide a little depth and poignance to a character whose initial rambunctiousness was a bit grating but which has now been mellowed with a measure of self-reflection about his childhood.
Not that the series has gone soft or serious. Not at all. It’s just that, unlike on some other DreamWorks Animation franchises, it’s apparent that some extra effort has been expended to make sure that the second entry here didn’t hit a foul ball, to strengthen the bench to provide a little extra depth.
Consolidating his position as Dragon Warrior and still supported by the Furious Five—Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross)—Po (Jack Black) initiates his search for his real dad (surely not the goose who raised him), while Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) embarks upon what he sees as his prophesized mission to take over all of China with an “unstoppable” new weapon.
To do this, Shen must conquer ever-more territory in his quest for additional metal, while Po’s investigation triggers a flashback revealing that his abandonment by his real father had an unimagined link with present events, leading to a pretty spectacular battle involving battleships, cannons and Po’s rediscovery of his “inner peace” in a pictorially imposing harbor.
Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who worked on the first installment as head of story, action sequences supervisor and the Dali-esque position of dream sequence director, devotes the requisite amount of time to small-fry-friendly bumptious slapstick and silliness, which feels generically mandatory. But it all moves along briskly, with a degree of visual grace and a solid feel for 3D.
The series regulars, who also include Dustin Hoffman as an old guru and James Hong as Po’s ostensible dad, all return—and why not?—while Oldman balances Shen’s physical modesty with his expertise in vocal menace.
Hans Zimmer’s score is an energetic plus, but the film’s single most striking feature are the end credits, which employ a beautifully designed flipping lantern technique accompanied by wittily ever-accelerating music.
Release: May 26 (Paramount/DreamWorks Animation)
Production: DreamWorks Animation
Voice Cast: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, James Hong, Michelle Yeoh, Danny McBride, Dennis Haysbert, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Victor Garber, Jackie Chan
Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Screenwriters: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
Producer: Melissa Cobb
Supervising Animator- Fight Choreographer: Rudolphe Guenoden
Production Designer: Raymond Zibach
Editor: Clare Knight
Music: Hans Zimmer, John Powell
PG rating, 90 minutes
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