Kung Fu Panda 2

Now I may have mentioned this before but I’m an animator; I love animation in all forms and yet I’ve not managed to review an animated film yet… probably because I generally focus on action films but all that changes today with Kung Fu Panda 2; it’s animated, its action packed and its Dream Works… but is it any good?
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Now the first Kung Fu Panda (KFP) surprised me to know end, I’ve gone off Dream Works animations with their being very little they’ve created that interested me however when KFP came along to my amazement they had created a film that paid homage to the Kung Fu films of old while injecting there films with a fantastic blend of highly choreographed action and story that actually made me watch it over and over, even if I wasn’t the biggest fan of Po (Jack Black), it’s secondary cast made up for it and it was overall a very entertaining film.

Now there was plenty of reasons to be dubious of the sequel, for one simply because it’s a sequel and I never feel like sequels are a good idea. Dream Works tend to drown you in sequels, killing their franchises (ala Shrek). I don’t think I’ll be spoiling anything to say that they set up a further sequel at the end of KFP2 but as opposed to most tacked on sequels I actually believe that at the end of KFP there was still a story to be be told.

  • The Plot:

KFP2 deals with Po once again as he begins to remember his past as a young panda before being adopted by his Dad. The revelation of his adoption is something that shocks him greatly though it’s that’s quite obvious to everyone else around him. While the main antagonist of the film; Shen is a peacock who’s killed all the Pandas, including Po’s family, under the belief he would be killed by a panda one day.

The main story of the film revolves around Po and the furious 5 travelling to stop Shen and his Kung Fu stopping super weapon (a firework based cannon) while Po struggles to remember the events that lead to his adoption by the his Dad the Goose. Shen also has his own story and I must admit I actually love him; he’s a brilliant villain. He’s a very strong character that’s driven by fear, wanting to rule the world and have everyone fear him but is very fearful himself of the black and white warrior destined to kill him. His whole motivation is based around this destiny and by extension setting in motion Po’s eventual transformation into the Dragon Warrior in the first film.

  • The Characters

As with most sequels this film has an expanded cast from the first one, while most returning characters get no new development in their character. Not that 4 of the furious 5 had any real development in the first place, just being voiced by well known martial artists in more of cameo roles then actual parts. Even if their characters were featured a lot with Jackie Chan being the biggest example of this. Anyway lets break this down character by character:

— Po

Now I really didn’t like Po’s character and development over the first film, it seemed like he never really had a proper personal stake in the story, even as the Dragon Warrior he didn’t really change much as a character being the constantly annoying wannabe be fan boy that gets lucky.

That’s changed straight away in the sequel with the introduction of the plot about being adopted, something that the audience gets more expansion on before Po works it out. Slowly coming to find that he’s actually part of a much bigger scheme. He’s effected on many levels; his responsibility as the Dragon Warrior to save Kung Fu from extinction while he personally is effected by the revelation that his dad isn’t his real dad and struggles with coming to terms with it. While finding out Shen is responsible for the death of his real parents and all Panda’s alike.

His reaction to this isn’t one of revenge though, which I like, more that he’s accepting of who he has become through his tragedy. He does the right thing; accepting the pain of his past and not falling to it as Shen had expected. Its this calmness that ShiFu had tried to teach him at the beginning of the film and his eventual understanding of it allows him to quell his rage and survive the super weapon.

— Shen

Shen is starting to become one of my favourite villains, while is story isn’t anything that’s not been done before. Chronicles of Riddick has a villain with the same motivation as him, the story is handled so much better, in particular how vulnerable he is.

Having been predestined to die at the hands of a black and white warrior he takes it upon him self to have every panda killed to protect his future; actually thinking that this will make his parents pleased. Naturally he’s disgraced and exiled, returning to enact revenge and take his city back, followed by the world. At the revelation that Po is alive, and is the Dragon Warrior at that’ it shows his fearful side. Through his interactions with the soothsayer he shows that he’s still very much scared and while putting up a strong front shows his fearful nature in isolated scenes.

Now unlike the villain of the first film Shen is a good fighter, but not the best by far. Its shown that grand masters still have much greater abilities then him, implying that the furious 5, Po and other masters can beat him, hence the creation of the super weapon that tips battles in his favour and strikes fear in his enemies. Po’s emotional issues level him down in ability to the point that Shen is more powerful for most of the film though the balance changes when Po’s issues are resolved.

— The sub cast

The film has a much more rounded cast of characters then that first, which went for a core cast with act based sub characters. Naturally this leaves development and motivation to be quickly glossed over in most cases. As said before the furious 5 don’t get much attention, being more an extension of Po now. While Tigeress does get to show a more understanding side she doesn’t personally change. ShiFu is written out early in the plot only returning as the films Dues Ex Machina at the end of the fight.

New characters to the film get small moments to shine though, the soothsayer is more the spiritual guide of the film, replacing ShiFu’s master from the first film. Twoother Masters who are seen a few times through the film represent how the world of Kung Fu changes with Shen’s super weapon (Master Croc being voiced by Van Damn in a small role is a nice quirk). Even at the end Shen’s chief henchman/wolf gets a nice side by refusing to fire on his own men, even to kill Po… though it leads to his death its a little humanising for him.

  • The Animation

There are 2 styles of animation used during the film; the traditional 3D of the first film makes up for about 80% of the film while the 2D animé style is used for flashbacks like in the Spin of DVD released. The 3D animation seems to have a slight more eastern look to it then the original film did, using a variety of filters leading to a less clean imaged and making a frame that feels more eastern in style. Its like having an element of the 2D animation in the 3D still which actually helps with the constantly switching styles when the film jumps to flashback. The 2D style for the most part is far more stylistic then the 3D portion but works very well looking like a collage of fabrics more then animation at times which just makes the whole thing seem more beautiful.

— The Action

Now given the title of the film this is probably where you want to hear about the action in the film? Well like the first all the action is over the top and fun! There’s no slow fighting scenes or training montages in this one as all main character are now proficient fighters. So what we end up with is far more creative multi person fights where Po will work with the furious 5. It feels much more creative then the fights in the first film with all the over the top impossible moves that are just impossible in real life.

If I had one complaint it would have to be that there’s often so much happening n screen you often wish you could slow the action down to make sure you see everything, though this is always the downside of fights where threes a real brawl going on. It does encourage re watching though which is the bonus of having the DVD as you can quickly replay anything you want to see (something I often do though I don’t recommend the first time you watch a film)

  • In Conclusion

Well if you’ve not already worked out what I think from the rest of the review I think that this is a clear improvement over the original movie. Yes it sets up a sequel that I feel already will just be a re-hash of Po’s emotional story during this film judging on its own merits its a great film.

While I’d like to have seen more development of the furious 5 they feel like sub characters despite being present for the whole film for the most part. Shen is the true drawing point for this film, adults will love him while kids will find their joy watching Po and company.

The story is actually very dark, handling what’s essentially genocide of all Panda’s in a flash back, while never shown graphically a touchy subject is handled very well along with Po’s emotional story throughout the film.

If you like Dream Works films chances are you’ve already seen it but I highly recommend it if you’ve skipped it for any reason as there a lot to love here, so give it a watch!

David ‘Ryatta’ Wyatt

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About Ryatta

So about me... Well when I'm not reviewing things I'm a technical animator working in one of the UKs biggest game studios!

Posted on 03/14/2012, in Other, Text Reviews/Articles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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