Kung Fu Panda 2
Whilst Dreamworks have always produced films that are jolly good fun, in our hearts and souls the crown of animation has always gone to Pixar, right? It’s OK, we’re all friends here. A Bug’s Life vs Antz, Toy Story vs Shrek, Finding Nemo vs Shark Tale: though Dreamworks always guaranteed a crazy night out, it was Pixar who we were going to take home to meet our parents. But it could be that the tides are changing. With last year’s utterly lovely How To Train Your Dragon, the world began to wonder whether the good-time studio had more than clever pop-culture references and a troupe of star-power behind it. And with Kung Fu Panda 2, the sequel to the surprise 2008 hit, it looks like they’re on a roll.
When last we met Po (Jack Black), the unlikely but pleasingly cuddly Dragon Warrior, he had finally been accepted into terrifying menagerie The Furious Five and heralded as a true master of Kung-Fu. Happily dividing his time between saving the world and helping run his Dad’s noodle restaurant (there’s only so much an over-worked goose can do alone, you know), Po is only lacking one thing: the powers that come with inner peace. Well, that and the ability to balance. But where are the hilarious repercussions of being able to balance?
When he hears that a meglomaniac peacock by the name of Lord Shen (Gary Oldman, yeah that’s right) is building a machine with which to take over all of China, he and the Five waste no time in hopping, leaping and chopping their way towards his mighty castle to take him down, leaving Po’s questions about achieving peace by the wayside. But little does Po know that his fate and Shen’s are far more intricately intertwined than he ever imagined, and it isn’t long before the hard-hitting Panda begins to question his past, his family origins and Shen’s place in his own destiny…
First thing’s first: Kung Fu Panda 2 looks absolutely gorgeous. Even (especially?) watching in EYE-NORMALISING 2D as I did, every shot is painstakingly lovely, ensuring that the setting of Vaguely Ancient China is entirely justified. Ever aware of the necessarily short running time it doesn’t waste a second, packing in ambitious and original fight sequences into its 90 minutes, as well as making sure every kick is accompanied by a punchline. The film manages to be both a celebration of and a pastiche of classic Kung-Fu films; effortlessly pulling the rug out from under many techniques we’ve come to expect from the action genre with both wit and warmth.
Not to keep banging on about Pixar, but the secret to their success has always been the relationships they cultivate between their central characters, and it has to be said that with this film Dreamworks have finally roundhouse-kicked the nail on the head. Jack Black is effervescent, eager and hopelessly likeable as the violent panda still searching for his place in the world, and the exchanges between him and his Dad – always supportive, always terrifed Po will never come back – are wonderfully written as well as brilliantly delivered. Managing to be poignant without ever being saccharine, the moments of intimacy sit perfectly against the longer, brilliantly silly action sequences that allow a dazzling array of Hollywood talent to really flex their “hi-YA!”-ing muscles.
Perfect for kids, the spawners of those kids and martial arts masters who are disinterested in these so-called kids alike, with Kung Fu Panda 2 Dreamworks have finally settled into their stride. The only snag on their beautifully digitised horizon is hitting the level of expectation that follows team Dis/Pix wherever they lay their (inevitably darling) hat, but heck, considering this time last year they were rolling out Shrek Forever After, there are far worse problems to have.