'Kung Fu Panda 2': Hyperflexed 3-D takes kick out of sequel
"Kung Fu Panda 2" is a disappointing sequel that eliminates much of what worked the first time around — relationships, originality — and puts too much garish emphasis on disposable, 3-D effects.
Special to The Seattle Times
'Kung Fu Panda 2,' with the voices of Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Gary Oldman, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, James Hong. Directed by Jennifer Yuh, from a screenplay by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger. 90 minutes. Rated PG for mild violence. Several theaters.
"Delightful," "refreshing," "emotionally complex," "funny."
That was how I described "Kung Fu Panda" in a review of the computer-animated family film upon its release in 2008.
With its exceptionally appealing characters, unusually nuanced conflicts, colorful relationships and the striking backdrop of ancient China, "Kung Fu Panda" was a winner on originality alone. Add to that seamlessly funny and clever vocal performances by Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman (with crisp support from Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Seth Rogen and James Hong), and this strong movie deserved its Oscar nomination for best animated feature.
Thus (sigh) it's disheartening to find little to praise in the frantic, perfunctory sequel, "Kung Fu Panda 2." Worse, this thin follow-up feels like a betrayal of its predecessor's accomplishments and goodwill, cheapening what worked in the first place to emphasize some wrong things this time around — particularly the film's 3-D presentation.
Returning as the voice of the titular, portly, motormouth kung fu master, Po, Jack Black is perhaps even better than the first time around. But he's not really the star of "Panda 2"; the 3-D is.
The film is a daisy-chain of chases exploiting visual possibilities of the much-overused format, though the chase structure is so unrelenting there is nothing memorable about the 3-D effect. The movie is all but indistinguishable from a video game, save interactive features.
It doesn't help that the sequel's story isn't a story at all, but the kind of single-minded narrative thread best suited to pushing a player along through a video game's multiple levels.
That thread finds Po on a quest to discover what happened to his parents at the hands (well, wings) of a wicked crane named Lord Shen (Gary Oldman). As with the villain in the earlier film (a fierce tiger voiced by Ian McShane), Lord Shen has a back story that engenders sympathy and resonates somewhat with Po's situation.
But the film's writers and first-time director, Jennifer Yuh, draw nothing of interest from that parallel. Far worse is the extent to which most of the hugely likable vocal cast is sidelined this time around.
I'm sure I counted no more than a half-dozen lines from Hoffman, and about the same for Chan, Rogen, Liu and Cross. Their characters may be on screen a lot, but their importance is sadly diminished. Only Jolie and Hong have a substantial presence.
Also sacrificed to the sequel's visual priorities are, well, visuals. It was easy to get caught up in the exotica of "Kung Fu Panda," the pleasing, almost contemplative look of landscape and architecture, the juxtaposition of village and nature. There's a lot of thought put into the cluttered, shadowy look of the new work, but little to recommend the result.
Tom Keogh: email@example.com
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