For a long while, Dreamworks played second fiddle to Pixar in the animated feature stakes, with movies skewed towards the adult demographic through the use of celebrity voices and “street smart” humour, but lacking in heart. But then they delivered Kung Fu Panda – the story of a young, adopted panda named Po, who discovers the value of self worth through a combination of dumb luck and kung fu – and Dreamworks emerged from Pixar’s shadow in a flurry of fur, feathers and awesomeness.
Yet the elation was shortlived. That Dreamworks decided to make a sequel immediately brought the cynicism back, with expectations of a cheap cash-in (which they’d already done with Secrets of the Furious Five). But like Po’s teacher, I should’ve had more faith in the power of awesomeness. Kung Fu Panda 2 is at least as good, if not better, than its predecessor.
Firstly, mad props to the writers of the original for creating a world so rich with potential that gave rise to this new story. Did you notice in the first one that Po was the only panda? I didn’t. But Panda 2 starts to elaborate on that tale, working it into a much larger story that takes the story from that of a panda trying to save his town from the evil Tai Long, to trying to save the whole of China (and kung fu) against the threat of Lord Shen and his arsenal of weapons equipped with gunpowder.
What I loved most was the attention to detail in the character designs. Everything about them, from their form to the way that they moved, showed the care and craftsmanship that went into them, resulting in characterisations that in the real world, would be analogous to great acting. The humour was also razor sharp, recalling many of the gags from the first movie (e.g. the heart-to-heart between Po and his dad), and delivering completely new and unexpected punchlines that make the joke even funnier the second time around.
Sadly, the movie ends with the promise of a sequel, although maybe just this once, I might park my cynicism.