THE first Kung Fu Panda was cute and funny and had some great animated action, but didn’t seem an instant classic.
Nevertheless, it entertained audiences to the tune of $600 million-plus and became significant enough in popular culture for a cuddly but fierce American baseball star, Pablo Sandoval, to be known thereafter as Kung Fu Panda and for the Atlanta Zoo to name its new baby panda Po.
DreamWorks’ sequel has been lavished with everything it takes to make it bigger and better, and it does not disappoint on either score.
Furious flying fists, feet and wings are just one aspect of a fine, fun tale of destiny, beautifully directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and written by screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger.
Now that Po and the Furious Five – Angelina Jolie’s tough Tigress, Jackie Chan’s Monkey, Seth Rogen’s Mantis, Lucy Liu’s Viper and David Cross’ Crane – are buddies in sync, the villainous Lord Shen is introduced as a bonkers noble who misused the gift of fireworks to make a terrible weapon, was banished, and has now returned to make all China bow at his feet.
Luckily it has been foretold that a black-and-white warrior can defeat him! How fortuitous!
Gary Oldman is fabulous as the feathered fiend and his character animators do his performance proud with a stunning, balletic fighting style, the fan tail flicking with lethal fascination.
The pantheon of new characters includes Danny McBride’s one-eyed leader of Shen’s wolf army, a trio of legendary kung fu masters in Victor Garber’s Thundering Rhino, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Croc and Dennis Haysbert’s Storming Ox, with marvellous Michelle Yeoh as a soothsayer sheep.
The excellence of the voice cast is matched with absolutely breathtaking, epic landscapes and gorgeous sets in an eclectic, computer-generated mix of animation styles and techniques.
Sensational sequences abound, from a runaway chase to a black, white and red hand-painted-looking ‘flashback’, hyper-realistic water scenes and 3D’ed-to-the-max aerial views of the Battle Of Gongmen City, the solitary silhouette of Po poised on a pagoda rooftop above Shen’s dragonship.
The journey and the saving of the day are interwoven pleasingly with Po’s inner journey of self-discovery.
Every superhero rates an origin story and Po’s emerges now that he has finally got around to asking what every five-year-old piped up in the first adventure: why is the panda’s dad a goose?
Perhaps KP3 will tell us...