Kung Fu Panda 2 (Nelson, 2011)
I have professed a few other times that I really love animated films. In fact, if I could just watch animated films for the rest of my life I would probably be perfectly happy, despite missing out on many other live action greats. However, recent American animated movies have generally left me mostly cold even when they have been generally regarded as 'successful' films. Kung Fu Panda 2 is a sequel to a film for which I have little love, so I entered the movie with fairly tempered expectations. But sequels, at least on a theoretical level, are supposed to be ways to improve, so I hoped that since the characters and world was established the film would be willing to deliver a few interesting action sequences situated around a competent story line. I do not ask for much, yet Kung Fu Panda 2 still does little besides disappoint. Why, Po? Why do you hurt me so?
Most of the reason for the disappointment is not in the action, which is all mostly competent in both design and execution (though a bit too dark to make out all the night sequences), but rather in the plot beats the script follows. Po (Jack Black) is not supposed to be smart, that is understandable, but the film asks the viewer to accept that he never once questioned that the goose who raised him was not his biological father? I can maybe buy that, but that does not really make for a character with whom I can sympathize. So as we follow Po and crew attempting to find out what happened to his real parents, all the while attempting to thwart the menacing peacock Lord Shen. And that becomes the film's greatest downfall. Rather than looking toward the future, the film gets caught up in the past, and we have another quasi-origin story that eventually has little pay off outside of setting up for another sequel.
And another generic voice acting performance from Jack Black is, well, mostly lifeless. It helps that the supporting performers, namely Seth Rogen and David Cross, are at least fun to listen to, but their speaking roles are mostly minimized. At least the film is visually pleasing, blending together nice exaggerated movements to make for some finely polished action sequences. But they really serve no larger purpose, they just kind of move the plot forward. So they succeed, because the film is paced well and moves along briskly, but I never found the sequences thrilling. Just as I never really found much of the movie funny, so much like the first entry it was both a bad comedy and a mediocre action film. The film was not nearly as racist this time though, so I guess that's something for it to be proud of...not being as racist and what not.
But much like the innards of the licensed plastic figurines promoting the film that Burger King gives away with the purchase of each kids meal, Kung Fu Panda 2 is hollow. Not just hollow, artificial and completely manufactured. You may be able to wind it up, perhaps even watch in wonder as it lights up and emits a foreign sound, but ultimately it is lucky if it even sits on a shelf for a couple of weeks. Perhaps even a couple of days. Covered with dust, largely forgotten, perhaps behind a couch, maybe donated to good will or pawned off in a garage sale. Empty, unfulfilled, and inconsequential.
Netflix Rating: **/*****
Notes of interest: This film was directed by a female, which is always cool. It was also produced by Guillermo del Toro, which must have either been done for a paycheck, or is just baffling. Take your pick.
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© 2011 Richard James Thorne