Sequels can be difficult things. Generally, the original film is a stand-alone production that resolves itself. Additional episodes have not only to survive the comparison to a successful first film, but they also must remold the characters into a new narrative which both relates to the original while also staking new ground to avoid be a cheap rehash.
KUNG FU PANDA was a smart, beautifully designed family movie. It was also tightly structured and offered little direction for a sequel. Po (Jack Black), the titular panda, had become the Dragon Warrior and vanquished the menacing Tai Lung (Ian McShane). Instead of devising a new threat out of whole cloth, screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger smartly delved into Po's past, exploring his origin story.
In KUNG FU PANDA 2, Po 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. But Po's new life of awesomeness is threatened by the emergence of a formidable villain, 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.
A Vision of Infancy
Po has become equals with the Furious Five. He is still bumbling, gluttonous and given to grand proclamations on how awesome he can be. Despite these flaws, he has grown in his skills. While battling bandits in a local village, Po has a vision of his infancy. Confused, he brings his trouble to his father Mr. Ping (a swan goose). Mr. Ping admits to Po that he is indeed adopted, which comes as a shock to the dim-witted panda. Po was left on Ping's doorstep after his parent's village was destroyed by the evil Lord Shen. Shen has harnessed the power of gunpowder and cannoning .
Shen has returned to the region and threatens to take over all of China with his power weapons. Po and the Furious Five move to confront Shen. Po also hopes to learn more of his past and the fate of his parents.
As Well-Written as the First
This film is as well-written as the first. Black is given plenty of material to work with and makes Po one of the more likeable animated characters in recent years. As I mentioned in my review of the original film, I am no fan of Jack Black. In this role however, he is undeniably perfectly cast and should get most of the credit for the film's charm.
The design of the animation is also notable. The original film included a number of different animation styles woven into the story. This time around the design is even more elaborate and inventive. If the story had not worked, this would still be worth considering just for the visual creativity on the screen.
Genuine, Well-Written Humor
I generally will watch films like this in a full theater full of parents and children. Normally, I despise watching films in public with kids because of the noise, smells and disruptions. With something like this however, I find it instructive to gauge the film's reception. After all, I'm not a kid, so it is a little hard for me to speak on their behalf. The kids appeared to have loved it. I know my children were riveted by the action sequences and loved the humor. Another element I watch for is the laughter. If just the kids laugh, the humor is probably simple stuff. When parents and children laugh together, as they were doing during my viewing, you know you have genuine, well-written humor on the screen.
If you and/or your children enjoyed KUNG FU PANDA, you will like this follow up. I recommend it highly.
Christian parents may be hesitant about letting their children watch this film. There are elements that are legitimate concerns. Since this film takes place in ancient China, Eastern philosophy is everywhere. Concepts such as yin yang are present.
There is also the element of divination through a prophesying soothsayer warning Lord Shen that a black and white warrior would one day defeat him. This warrior is Po and a couple of times Po's black and white body is transformed into a yin yang symbol. This essentially represents yin yang beating the evil.
You will need to decide for yourself if you would want your children to be introduced to these ideas in this venue. Personally, I argue that such an introduction is perfect. Your children will undoubtedly be entertained by the film. Many of these references will fly right past them without their knowledge. Following the film a Christian parent should instruct their child on what they saw and what was presented in the film. The best way to confront ideas is to talk about them, even when they're delivered by a cartoon panda.
KUNG FU PANDA 2 is rated PG for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence.