May 26, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2

Grade: C +

Director: Jennifer Yuh

Starring the voices of: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Seth Rogan, Jackie Chan, David Cross, Lucy Liu, Michelle Yoah, Dennis Haysbert, and Jean-Claude Van Damme

MPAA Rating: PG

Running Time: 1 hr. 30 min.

The most, nay, only interesting part of the chopsocky sequel Kung Fu Panda 2 are the closing credits, which midway through list Guillermo del Toro as a creative consultant. Presumably he’s who advised debut film director Jennifer Yuh Nelson that the best way to make a peacock sinister is let Gary Oldman do its voice.

Otherwise, the filmmakers presume that an animated film’s sum worth correlates with the lines of computer code necessary to conceive its brilliant but dizzying 3-D action sequences. The original’s serviceable you-can-be-anything fable about Po the portly panda (Jack Black) and his improbable ascension to Dragon Warrior gives way to a prosaic pourquoi story prompted by the “shocking” revelation that Po really wasn’t born to a daft, noodle-brained goose. Flashbacks drawn to resemble traditional hand-drawn animation allude to what happened to Po’s parents once upon the time they crossed paths with Oldman’s genocidal Lord Shen, who now returns from exile with designs on conquering China using a fire-spewing WMD.

In between, there is a plethora of Black’s distinctive hit-and-miss quips, clever Pac-Man and T2 spoofs, and Po eventually becomes Neo. The quest for attaining inner peace, espoused by Po’s returning sensei Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), clashes with the paws-of-furry flashed ceaselessly by Po and his Furious Five comrades – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), Mantis (Seth Rogen), and Crane (David Cross).

You have to refer back to those closing credits to know that genre icons like Michelle Yeoh and Jean-Claude Van Damme lent their voices to this wuxia riff. Mostly, however, the whole enterprise feels like an excuse to introduce more animals – peacock, ox, croc, rhino, ram – that can be packaged as Happy Meal toys. Indeed, Kung Fu Panda 2 is like cinematic fast food – prepackaged, kid-friendly, and fallow.

Neil Morris

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