Now, this is my kind of family movie. Kung Fu Panda is exactly what it promises the title says it will be; it is about kung fu, a panda, and because this is the sequel you know the stakes are going to be higher than in the first one. Last time Po (voiced by Jack Black), the cutely overweight panda, became the Dragon Warrior after defeating Tai Lung, his master’s old apprentice, and training alongside the Furious Five. Now the evil Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), a peacock with serious daddy issues and a fear of pandas, has taken over China and the invention of gun powder threatens the very existence of Kung Fun; it's up to Po and the Furious Five to stop his evil reign and restore the balance to… I guess the force? Kung fu, maybe?
The plot doesn’t get any more elaborate than that. But were you expecting it to be? This is a movie about a Panda that kung-fus, (in this movie kung fu is a noun, a verb, an adjective, and a character in and of itself). But unlike the other sequel that came out this weekend, Kung Fu Panda 2 is not a xerox copy of the previous installment; instead, it legitimately tries to expand the universe, raise the stakes, and flesh out its characters further. It has fun with the loose ends that the first one left unanswered like: how did a goose father a panda? Turns out he didn’t. After a soothsayer (Michelle Yeaoh) foretells that a panda will defeat Lord Shen, Shen orders the extermination of all Panda-folk. Po might be the last Panda. Mr. Ping, AKA Papa Goose (James Hong), takes him in because – well an orphaned baby panda is too cute to ignore.
Lord Shen, the albino peacock, is a frightful and unapologetic villain. You don’t see his kind is children movies anymore; so evil that you could actually say that is character depth, not just cartoon evil. And Gary Oldman provides a voice acting that is likewise rarely seen nowadays. Unlike Po whom you are aware of him being Jack Black, Oldman’s voice fully emerges itself in character, in some type of method voice acting. The rest of the crew, including Master Shi Fu (Dustin Hoffman), is mostly there for support. Although Tigress (Angelina Jolie) shares a warm friendship with Po, and we might see this evolve in part three, unless inter-species dating is too much for a children’s film.
The start of the whole ordeal, however, is director Jennifer Yuh. This is her directorial debut (previously having directed the opening 'dream' sequence of the first film), but Yuh flaunts a mastery over the medium that is worthy of respect. Yuh includes more styles than your basic cartoon animal movie. A 2D style used for the flashback sequences involving Po’s back-story is particularly beautiful. And one style blends into the other, from Chinese paper-puppetry to regular 3D graphics and back to stylized 2D anime-esque frames, with what appears to be incredible effortlessness. This is what taking advantage of the medium is all about. Backing Yuh, of course, was a team of choreographers who painstakingly designed every fight, which end up taking over three fourths of the movie. Generally speaking, when a movie is all fighting, bashing, and action it quickly becomes uninteresting. This is not the case; the fights here are choreographed, you understand where every character stands, and the odds the face. Fights like these, of traditional Kung Fu movies, are more like dancing than fighting. And that is a good thing, because head butting for over an hour and a half quickly grows tiresome.
Finally I would like to point out how much this movie is targeted at pleasing Chinese audiences. This does not mean Western audiences will not enjoy it; this is a world type of movie. But the first installment broke all box office records in China, until the premiere of Avatar and 2012. The latter was actually described as a love letter to the Chinese people. Well, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a full-blown serenade and it will not surprise me if it breaks Avatar’s top spot in the land of Kung Fu.