DVD Release Date: December 13, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: May 26, 2011 (3D/2D theaters and IMAX 3D)
Rating: PG (for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence)
Genre: Family, Animated, Sequel, Comedy
Run Time: 90 min.
Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Voices by: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Gary Oldman, Seth Rogen, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dustin Hoffman, David Cross, Lucy Liu, Dennis Haysbert, Victor Garber

Sticking with the bear necessities, namely the endearing charm of its fearless leader Po (Jack Black, Gulliver’s Travels), a few lessons worth learning, and plenty of madcap action to boot, Kung Fu Panda 2 is the rare sequel that’s as much fun as its predecessor.

Interestingly enough, the storyline has far more texture, too. While it was no small feat when Po basically saved all of China in Kung Fu Panda, Po’s journey is far more complex now. Not only is he putting his previous martial arts training to particularly good use once again, but he’s confronting a major identity crisis.

In what was practically a running joke last time around, Po eventually puts two and two together about his father, who happens to be a goose. As it turns out, Po’s real dad wasn’t a goose at all, which of course isn’t a surprise to anyone in the audience, but is still a bit alarming to Po.

Unlike the rest of his adoptive family, Po’s origins were even more colorful since he was the last survivor of an attack on his natural born family that was instigated by a strutting peacock warlord named Shen (Gary Oldman, Red Riding Hood).

As harmless as Po seems, however, Shen is always mindful of a prophecy that proclaimed his defeat at the hands of a kung fu warrior dressed in black and white. And since kung fu will naturally be his enemy’s weapon of choice, he immediately attempts to render physical combat obsolete by developing a thoroughly modern instrument of war instead.

While that turn of events sounds a little intense for the kiddie set, that story-shaping turn of events is tempered with plenty of lighthearted humor and inherently silly shenanigans as Po and his pals Tigress (Angelina Jolie, The Tourist), Mantis (Seth Rogen, Green Hornet) and Monkey (Jackie Chan, The Karate Kid) travel to confront the peacock king.

Like the best movies, Kung Fu Panda 2 instantly transports the audience to somewhere exciting. Sure, The Far East is certainly no stranger to film, but you almost forget you’re watching something animated, even in plain ol’ 2-D. To wit, the expansive color palette and precise attention to detail are absolutely stunning.

Another unexpected, but welcome surprise is the visual enhancements made to these lovable protagonists themselves. Crafted with far more lifelike precision and larger-than-life personality, the production looks less like a so-so video game and more like big-budget production—a real credit to the DreamWorks team.

And along with all that style, there’s actually plenty of heart, too. Po may be riding quite the proverbial emotional rollercoaster in Kung Fu Panda 2, but like the most engaging storytelling, the lessons aren’t too preachy. Still, the story manages to say a little something, which makes watching Kung Fu Panda 2 even more of a pleasure for the whole family.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol: None.
  • Language/Profanity: None, just some name-calling like “idiot” and “tubby.”
  • Sex/Nudity: A discussion of where geese come from doesn’t go very far.
  • Violence: The marital arts action is very similar to the first film with plenty of kicking, hitting and throwing. Nothing too intense, but it’s definitely pervasive. There are also plenty of perilous situations played for laughs where characters get smacked in the face, fall from particularly high structures and find themselves in harm’s way thanks to blazing fireballs.
  • Thematic Material/Religion: Some emotionally charged discussion about being adopted.  There’s also some talk of finding your “inner peace,” but it’s far less prevalent here than in the original Kung Fu Panda.
     

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.