Thursday, June 9, 2011

Animated Reviews: Kung Fu Panda 2

I only have two minor issues about "Kung Fu Panda 2". So, I'm going to get them out of the way before the rest of the review.

First: there was a little too much of 'Jack Black' bleeding over into Po's performance. Black's screwball mannerisms and witticisms can be pretty funny and they do add a certain humanity to Po's character.(1)  But sometimes it's just a little too much. (2)  So, I feel that adding in too many of them runs the risk of the viewer getting tired of the Black-isms really fast especially when some of them either aren't funny at all or are out of place. It kind of reminded me of the second live-action "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movie where it was clear that they were hamming it up due to still being on an emotional high from the commercial success of the first film. I guess I just don't want to be abruptly pulled out of the fictional world that they've created--I want to see "Po" not Jack Black playing "Po". A minor quibble to be sure, and certainly not enough to spoil the rest of Jack Black's very solid performance, but it was there nonetheless.

The second issue is that the first quarter of the film seemed kind of muddled. Like they knew where they had to go in order to get to the main conflict, but needed to eat up some screen time with Po and the Furious Five so they could catch up to the background events that were taking place at the same chronological time. Once they reached the city? Man it was on and it stayed on until the end of the film! And there were lots of lovely little Easter eggs: like hearing Jean Claude Van Damme do the voice acting for Master Croc.

I absolutely loved how they expanded upon the relationship between Po and his adoptive father (Mr. Ping--expertly voiced by James Hong) and revealed questions about his past that had lain dormant in Po's heart. Like "Despicable Me", the "Kung Fu Panda" franchise is a giant advertisement for adoption--and in both cases, they work spectacularly! Another thing that I really loved is how they gave a little more screen time to the Furious Five--it made them more than just a part of the background vehicle for Po (a common complaint that I heard about KFP1, even though I personally don't agree with it).

Yet another thing that DreamWorks got right was taking time to develop the villain's character, motivation and backstory. One of my pet peeves is when villains are little more than cardboard cutouts. Okay, the super powered alien race is attacking the planet. Why? What's their motivation? Why would they travel halfway across the galaxy just to pick a fight with a technologically inferior race of beings? In both KFP1 and 2, the villains make sense. Tai Lung and Shen, though they don't get as much screen time as the rest of the cast, have clear motivations and reasons behind their actions. Yes, the reasons may be simple: revenge against a perceived wrong from a parental/authority figure. But the single minded way that the characters pursue their goals coupled with the backstory revealed to the audience fleshes out their character and taps into that deep dark part of everyone who has ever been denied something that they believed was rightfully theirs. Even though their actions and motivations may be morally wrong, we can identify with the villains on some level. And that identification helps take them from the realm of just being a MacGuffin for the hero and plants them firmly into the realm of being an actual character who struggles against the hero in their attempt to achieve goals that are as real and as logical to them as the hero's goals are to the hero.

After that, there's not much else to say: the character animation, backgrounds, sound and voice acting were all top notch--and after both KFP1 and HTTYD, I really expected nothing less. Once again, DreamWorks shows that they are capable of giving Disney/Pixar a run for their money!

I'm going to leave you with the following video of  the ending credits for Kung Fu Panda 2. This is one of the unexpected treats that we're seeing more and more in animated features: lavishly animated credits that are as beautiful and as artistic as the main film. Bravo to DreamWorks for continuing this tradition with KFP2!

1. To see an example where the 'Black-isms' work really well, review the scene in "Kung Fu Panda" where Po is trying to climb the stairwell and get into the temple!
2. To see an example where too many 'Black-isms' overload an otherwise solid performance, watch the often touching and brilliant film "Shallow Hal".