Kung Fu Panda 2 succeeds by going deeper with the legend of a panda of pure awesomeness. Turns out DreamWorks Animation is really good at making sequels. Since Kung Fu Panda 2 more than lives up to the standard set by the original. Po’s path to become the Dragon Warrior was so awesome that it led to an equally awesome Nickelodeon series called Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness. Despite being 15 at the time, Kung Fu Panda was an action-packed martial arts tale for everyone. I definitely wasn’t expecting the sequel to be as dark as it ended up being. Kung Fu Panda 2 deals with heavy themes such as adoption, genocide, and death. All while retaining the hilarious sense of humor of before. Since it was directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Kung Fu Panda 2 became the unlikely highest grossing movie with a female director. DreamWorks studied Chinese culture a lot closer and the opening reflects that by using another unique animation style. Chinese puppetry is used to tell the story of our newest villain.
After a physical threat like Tai Lung, Lord Shen ended up being a peacock. An evil peacock who uses bladed weapons, a deadly fireworks cannon, and wiped out a village of pandas when a soothsayer foretold his defeat. The brilliant Gary Oldman brings a sinister gravitas to a personal threat like Shen. Michelle Yeoh voices the old goat Soothsayer due to her strong connection with martial arts films. The same applies to one member of the legendary masters of Lord Shen’s former palace in Gongmen City. Jean-Claude Van Damme manages a computer animated split as Master Croc, Dennis Haysbert keeps you in good hands as Master Storming Ox, and Victor Garber gets some time in as Master Thundering Rhino. Learn more about them in their short Secrets of the Masters. Meanwhile, every other major voice actor from the first movie returns to save China from Shen’s kung fu ending weapon. Jack Black explores the deeper side of Po as he discovers he’s adopted. Mr. Ping being a goose was originally played for laughs, but they really take it seriously this time. Po was an adorable panda cub that Ping discovered in a radish crate and raised as his own. You might assume the comedy would be lost as soon as Master Po became a skilled kung fu panda, but his fighting style can still be hilarious.
Po is fully accepted by the Furious Five as they fight side by side. Angelina Jolie gives Master Tigress the most surprising character development as she participates in Po’s antics and becomes a genuine friend. Some say romantic, but I’m not sure that was their intention. Crane, Mantis, Monkey, and Viper have their moments of action, comedy, and companionship as well. It’s actually Master Shifu who’s left out since he has achieved inner peace and no longer needs to train the Dragon Warrior. A more withered Dustin Hoffman still shines no matter how small the part. The martial arts fighting is even more of a spectacle with the improved computer animation. Po and the Furious Five face a pack of wolves and gorillas in several creatively epic sequences. Po continues to be haunted by flashbacks associated with Shen’s symbol until he learns the terrible truth. That his mother was killed saving his life. With inner peace mastered, Po takes down Shen’s army with the help of his friends and a final “Skadoosh.” In the end, the lesson is to not let your past define who you are. Making Po’s acceptance of his adoptive father truly emotional. I just wasn’t expecting a cliffhanger where Po’s birth father is alive amongst other pandas. Kung Fu Panda 2 brought depth to a warrior of black & white.