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Kung Fu Panda 2 is not better than the original. It’s also not worse. So I guess that means we win!
When your first movie is as good as the original Kung Fu Panda, the best you can hope for in a sequel is one that doesn’t make you question why you liked the original in the first place, and Kung Fu Panda 2 succeeds on that front. It’s a sweet film that goes a long way with a batch of familiar characters that you’re still going to love and care about. And while it’s not as funny as the first one, the story is still there, so it’s good. I even liked the villain better this time. (But how could I not? It’s voiced by Gary Oldman.)
The story this time around focuses on Panda Po’s actual backstory and his quest to understand who he really is. This could have gone wrong in so many different ways, and for a small part of the film, it does, as parts of it are just plain boring. I found myself more than once looking at Facebook on my phone during some of the slower scenes. But it’s a very small part of the film, and the action set-pieces more than make up for the slow parts. Where the first one would throw kung-fu your way every so often, this one gives you the whole kitchen sink. The action this time around is definitely more impressive. I don’t have a 3D TV to truly enjoy it, but after seeing it in the theater, I can tell you that it’s one of the few instances of truly great 3D. Don’t get me wrong. This Blu-Ray still looks spectacular on my TV. But it’s not the same. This film was simply made to be watched while wearing those goofy glasses.
What truly sells Kung Fu Panda 2 is the fact that we still care about Po. In many ways, after he became the Dragon Warrior, where could he really go from there? Well, back down to the bottom it seems. When the nefarious peacock, Lord Shen (Oldman), comes into town with cannons at his disposal, Po has to search within himself to find a strategy that can take him out. What he finds is his own lack of confidence and the idea that he really doesn’t look anything like his goose father, Mr. Ping (played by the masterful James Hong, better known -- by the cool kids -- as Lo Pan from Big Trouble in Little China).
What follows is an adventure story that has more heart than the first one, but again, fewer laughs. It’s not better than the original, but because it has so much heart, it’s not worse, either. It’s a fine sequel that fits and seems justified. Just don’t make a third one and you should be golden. Got it, DreamWorks? Good.
I have to give it to DreamWorks. These special features really are incredible. It’s the sheer volume that’s most impressive. “Secrets of the Masters” is a full-on cartoon that tells us about the earlier kung-fu masters of Po’s time. It adds depth and more relevance to this silly little world of animals that know kung-fu. “Animators’ Corner” is a picture-in-picture discussion by the animators that runs the full course of the film. Budding artists will want to watch this. “Animation Inspiration” shows shots from around Asia that inspired the movie's locations. It really is impressive and enlightening. Asia is beautiful.
“Kickin’ It With the Cast” is just like it sounds like. We get to see Jack Black and the crew’s manic movements on camera. Gary Oldman is especially delightful to watch, being the gentleman that he is. Even as a peacock, he has to bring the class. The deleted scenes aren’t really that impressive. They deserved to be cut. “Panda Stories” features real pandas walking around and playing. They officially win the award for cutest animals ever. “Kung Fu Shuffle Game” is basically a game of "follow the ball," where you have to locate Po or a rabbit as they’re shuffled around the screen. Kids will like it. “Ni Hao -- Learn to Speak Chinese” features various words in Cantonese, and allows you to hear the pronunciation. Educational. Finally, there’s the filmmakers’ commentary, so counting “The Animators’ Corner” that makes two commentaries.
I told you this Blu-Ray is full to the nines. If you loved the film, you’ll love these features.
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