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Thursday, June 2, 2011 12:24 pm

A poignant second Panda

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Jack Black is the voice of Po in Kung Fu Panda 2.

Funny thing about having all of your dreams come true. Usually there’s that other shoe that drops, making you wonder if your good fortune is a blessing or not. Case in point: Po (voice by Jack Black), is the panda who’s come into his own as a fully-respected member of the Furious Five, China’s elite fighting group that eliminates any threat with a dose of kung fu fury and style. He’s rubbing shoulders with his heroes, has gained the respect of his mentor, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), and is respected by all who cross his path. But just as everything seems to be going his way, a threat from Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), who’s intent on conquering China and wiping out kung fu, instills doubt in our hero. Even more vexing is the fact that in the heat of battle, Po suffers a debilitating flashback that has him questioning his roots and wondering just what happened to his birth parents.

Dreamworks Animation boldly takes a chance by taking a much more serious approach in Kung Fu Panda 2. There’s a dose of existential angst awash in this animated chop-socky adventure, and while that might seem like heady stuff, it pays off handsomely in the end. To be sure, the shift is a bit jarring and it takes a good half hour to adjust to the film’s different tone. However, writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, who penned the first entry, have fashioned a compelling tale that quickly establishes Po’s dilemma and generates such a degree of empathy for him that we can’t help but be swept away by his quest as he searches for answers about his birth.

Director Jennifer Yuh has the unenviable task of combining the film’s serious story with the humor and action that contributed to the first entry’s success. To be sure, there are some laughs, but they’re sprinkled sparingly throughout. Instead, Yuh concentrates on spectacle and she and her animation crew deliver handsomely. Spectacular battles, a large-scale climax worthy of any big-budget action feature, sequences with varying degrees of depth and varying animated styles, all contribute to a distinctive, beautiful vision. And while the film is more serious than the first, it was still met with signs of approval with the three young men I saw it with. I was glad to hear this as Dreamworks’ success in challenging its young audience, as well as entertaining with a tale rendered with great skill and beauty.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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