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Genre: Kids, Cartoon, Comedy, Kung-fu
Country: United States
Starring (Voices): Jack Black, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, David Cross, Michelle Yeoh, James Hong, Danny McBride, Dennis Haysbert, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Victor Garber
Director: Jennifer Yuh
DVD distributor: Paramount Home Entertainment
The first Kung-Fu Panda worked because it was as much a kung-fu movie as it was a kids’ comedy. The voice casting was superb, and the kung-fu staples weren’t (badly) dumbed-down. It was as good a kung-fu movie as I’ve seen in a decade, and a gerat kids’ film as a result.
The second Kung-Fu Panda, out on DVD and Blu-Ray December 13th from Paramount Home Entertainment, is even more a kung-fu movie than the first one. There are some wonderfully animated kung-fu scenes, including a great chase through a Chinese city on rickshaws, which I think is the highlight of the movie.
There is much deference to kung-fu movies of the past. And it’s not just the involvement of Michelle Yeoh and James Hong. The central concept is that an evil peacock has invented the Ultimate Weapon, one that cannot be beaten no matter how good one’s kung-fu is. This is a classic plot line to countless films, like Flying Guillotine. And…Flying Guillotine 2. And many others that don’t spring to mind right away.
The weapon this peacock has devised is a cannon. The advent of firearms was a plot device used in many classic films, as it signified the end to a way of life. It was used in samurai movies as well as kung-fu flicks, the most famous probably being The Seven Samurai. Similar themes sprang up in westerns with the advent of machine guns.
Then there are the masters. So many kung-fu movies have multiple masters, each one usually the master of a different discipline. In this case, there is Master Rhino (Victor Garber), Master Ox (Dennis Haysbert), and Master Croc (the wonderfully cast Jean-Claude Van Damme, who says distressingly little throughout the movie).
It works magnificently as a kung-fu movie. Now for the bad news – it isn’t even close to the first film as a kids’ cartoon comedy. Sure, it’s still funny in places, and charming and cute in others. But Kung Fu Panda 2 lacks the charm of its predecessor, and it’s childlike sense of wonder. Now that Po IS a member of the kung-fu elite, he no longer idolizes the Furious Five the way he did in the first film, so much of the magic that created is gone.
I still like Kung Fu Panda 2 a lot. I will definitely be watching it again, probably many times, with the kids (and by myself). Just because it doesn’t live up to the magical humour and throwback genius of the first one doesn’t mean that this movie isn’t also very good. Kung Fu Panda 2 is very good.