Film Review: Kung Fu Panda 2

2011– 90mn – PG

Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson. Voiced by Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen. Review by Walter Nichols.

Pixar, arguably the greatest film studio working today, has a very clear policy about sequels: don’t make them unless you have a great storytelling motivation. As a result, of the nine original films they have made, only Toy Story (and soon Cars) has had a sequel made. In typical Pixar form, the second Toy Story film was better than the first, and the third trumped both of them. Quality, it seems, is their foremost thought.

Not so DreamWorks. Pixar’s main animation rival takes the exact opposite tack: make sequels to everything that makes the slightest bit of money, and then make sequels and spin-offs to that – lazily and formulaically removing every last hard-earned penny from the unsuspecting audience’s pocket. Preferably, each new film should see a plunge in quality and intelligence. Case in point being DreamWorks’s flagship franchise, Shrek, which after two great films debased itself with two god-awful further sequels, a theme park ride, a Christmas special, a Halloween special, and the upcoming Puss In Boots movie.

Kung-Fu Panda, then, is no exception. Three years – like clockwork – after the original grossed $633 million worldwide, here comes the follow-up. Obviously it’s in 3D (3D’s in right now), but is also on offer in 2D (turns out 3D might not be in for very long). The by-the-book story sees the first film’s characters, led by panda Po (Jack Black), reteam to defeat the evil Shen (Gary Oldman), a peacock who seeks to rule China by force. He has built the first canons and fire weapons, and plans to wipe out kung-fu and other martial arts with bullets and steel. Emotion and life-lessons are sluggishly integrated into the story under the pretext that Shen killed all the pandas in China, fearful of a prophecy that predicted one of them would bring his end; said pandas including Po’s family. Po has to find “inner peace” if he will be successful in defeating Shen.

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The film is synthetic, committee-made, tired, predictable and utterly forgettable. It’s also loud, colorful, occasionally funny, and essentially harmless. The characters are voiced by a needlessly vast array of A-list stars (another DreamWorks tool: the film might be too unexceptional to sell itself, so fill it with celebrities who can promote it), from Angelina Jolie to Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan to Seth Rogen, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Lucy Liu. They all play such small parts that, for the adults in the audience, most fun can probably be had by bringing in a cast list, and ticking them off as you spot them (the soundtrack is too loud for a good nap). For kids, though, Kung-Fu Panda 2 isn’t a bad 90 minutes: it’s just exotic enough, just Cartoon Network-y enough to hold their attention. As far as fast food goes, it’s a solid, reliable Happy Meal: it’ll do the trick, until the next mad dash for the drive-thru window.

Star rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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