Not unlike an animated version of Hong Kong martial arts actor Sammo Hung, the rotund panda Po (voiced by Jack Black) encompasses a glorious blend of comedic and heroic qualities. In this sequel to the 2008 film Kung Fu Panda, Po is now established as the mighty Dragon Warrior, but that doesn’t prevent him from still being a bit of a klutz, overly excitable and all too easily distracted by affairs of the stomach. So when Po and his fellow kung fu masters The Furious Five go on a mission to liberate Gongmen City from the evil peacock Lord Shen (voiced by Gary Oldman), the theoretically opposing aspects of Po’s character are given full flight to deliver a spectacular computer animated adventure that is both hilarious and exhilarating.
What really elevates Kung Fu Panda 2 to make it one of the best feature films produced by DreamWorks Animation is the unexpected poignancy it delivers about half way through the film. Initially the concept of Po only just realising he’s been adopted (his ‘father’ is a goose) is nicely played for laughs. Both he and Lord Shen have parental abandonment issues, which not only creates a pleasing hero/villain duality but also leads to some extremely emotive sequences when Po learns about his origins and then responds accordingly. DreamWorks Animation have predominantly distinguished themselves for having an irreverent and casual style, where pop-culture references and throw-away gags took precedence, but with How to Train You Dragon and now Kung Fu Panda 2, DreamWorks have demonstrated they can deliver heartfelt stories amid the excitement and laughs.
And the excitement and laughs are there in abundance. While it’s not on the same level of the anarchic collapsing of the forth wall humour in the classic 1953 Warner Brothers cartoon Duck Amuck, there are a couple of very playful gags constructed around an awareness of cinematic space. Regardless, the one-liners and facial expressions from the characters are hilarious too. The action is inventive and incorporates the blend of slapstick humour and use of found objects as weapons that distinguishes the earlier films of Jackie Chan and also Stephen Chow. In fact, Kung Fu Panda 2 is the most representative and respectful appropriation of Hong Kong and Chinese action cinema by Western cinema since the Kill Bill films.
The conflict between technology when used as a weapon and the inner-peace of kung fu is played out effectively without being preachy, and the film very skilfully weaves together its various themes to deliver an all-encompassing conclusion. So much thought has clearly gone into the writing, sound design and animation of Kung Fu Panda 2 and it also contains some of the best use of 3D technology in a computer animated film to date. The first film was a lot of fun; this sequel is even more fun but also something quite special.