Saturday 21 April 2018

REVIEWS: 'Kung Fu Panda 2' by Paul Whittington

Jack Black brings plenty of humour to this high-kicking panda
Jack Black brings plenty of humour to this high-kicking panda

Paul Whitington

In 2008, Dreamworks, who were desperately searching for a replacement for the Shrek franchise they hadn't quite finished flogging to death, released a big-budget animated feature that sounded hopelessly contrived.

Kung Fu Panda charted the adventures of an overweight panda in ancient China who becomes an inadvertent hero. Remarkably, the film managed to pull off its cheesy premise, thanks to some sublime animation and the inspired voiceover work by Jack Black. The film earned more than $600m, making this sequel inevitable.

In the first film Po (Black) saved the idyllic Valley of Peace from an evil snow leopard after discovering an unlikely flair for unarmed combat. But in Kung Fu Panda 2 he and his friends face a far more sinister foe. Po has become the respected ally of the legendary Furious Five, a group of superhero animals led by Master Tigress (Angelina Jolie).

In fact, Po has become rather full of himself, but he gets a rude awakening when the Valley of Peace is attacked by a group of savage wolf bandits.

These are the emissaries of Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), a psychotic peacock who has pledged to lay waste to all of China in revenge for his forced exile. Po and the Furious Five are summoned by their adviser Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), who tells him they are the only hope for China.

They must travel under cover to the imperial capital to confront Shen before he unleashes his diabolical plan. But when they get there they find the odds stacked against them, and only a miracle will save them and their country.

Like its predecessor, Kung Fu Panda 2 knowingly and wittily pastiches adult martial arts films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The animated renditions of oriental hills and forests and the wooden cities of ancient China are impressive, and 3D effects add lustre to some ambitious action sequences. There's plenty of humour too, thanks to Black's energetic portrayal of a loveable panda whose heroism is constantly distracted by his abiding love of food.

But Kung Fu Panda 2 has a simmering sub-plot that jars slightly with the jokey overall tone. Po has been raised by a kindly goose but never knew who his real parents were: during the course of the film he experiences a series of troubling flashbacks of an early childhood trauma. What he remembers appears to suggest a panda genocide carried out by Lord Shen that only Po survived.

Dark stuff for a kids' cartoon, but none of the nippers at the screening I attended seemed particularly concerned. Po went down a bomb with them, and seems certain to have earned himself another sequel.

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