With 2008’s Kung Fu Panda, Dreamworks released the cinematic equivalent of Ronseal. An energetic and ejoyable animation about Jack Black’s overweight and over-enthused panda, Po and his quest to become an ‘awesome’ kung fu warrior, it grossed over $600 million and broke box-office records in its ancestral home of China. It’s easy to see why. Po’s first outing packed punches and laughs – such as a martial arts showdown between a famished Po and his philosophical teacher, Shifu (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) over a doughball and the fact that Po’s Dad is a goose. Its sequel picks up the latter where the bombshell is dropped that he is actually adopted. Cue an existential journey where Po seeks to discover his past, re-teaming with Tigress, Monkey, Crane, Viper and Mantis who must also defeat a new enemy seeking to destroy all of kung fu.
There’s a lot of frivolous fun here with a nicely orchestrated rik-shaw chase and a well-drawn opening prologue being two examples. The fight sequences are as bone-crunching as the first film and the moment when Po discovers the truth of his heritage is also moving, treading darker territory than the first with the shocking implication of panda mass genocide. The perpetrator is evil Lord Shen (Gary Oldman, clearly having a lot of fun), a homocidal peacock, hell-bent on destroying the last panda and the rest of China.
Other than that however, this sequel fails to impress. Whether necessary or not, the box-office figures cried out for a second installment, but it’s a rushed, untidy affair. Kids will enjoy the high-paced fight scenes, but there’s too much ‘kung fu’ and not enough ‘panda’ to entertain the whole family. The door has been left wide open for the threequel though. Hopefully, after some more training, the Dragon Warrior will return with some better moves.
Good: Po’s origin story is nicely drawn and Oldman is fun as an evil peacock.
Bad: An untidy plot, not enough new gags and a sidelined Shifu stops Kung Fu Panda 2 from being a knockout.