Lovable Kung Fu master returns

“Kung Fu Panda 2”
DreamWorks Animation
1 hour, 30 minutes


Being a parent is a difficult job. That’s not news. Most of those of you reading this will probably respond with a barely stifled “Yeah, tell me about it, rookie!” But, as the father of two toddlers, I discover some new emotional mine field everyday. For a long time, the afternoon nap seems to anchor the whole day, and then suddenly, for no reason at all, the nap is a thing of the past. Teething is a nightmare — a design flaw, really, and how are you supposed to keep a kid fed when they never seem to want to eat?

It is, of course, all worth it, but a little difficult to navigate sometimes. The worst is the comparisons. You try not to do it — my wife admonishes me every time I do, but you can’t help it. “Johnny can tie his own shoe. Can yours?” “She just loves to eat her vegetables, does he?” It’s maddening, and constantly makes me question my worth as a parent — irrational as I know it is.  However, one thing I can be proud of — one thing my 3-year-old has over all of his friends — he’s a great moviegoer.

My boy has been asking me about “Kung Fu Panda 2” for months, ever since I revealed that both Po the panda, and Lightning McQueen were going to be back on the big screen this summer.

Not together, mind you. “Cars 2” doesn’t premiere for about a month. But the other day when I told him that “Panda” was coming out this weekend, the excitement was palpable. I’m glad he connects with these films as they’re something I can sit and watch as well, without cringing.

The first “Kung Fu” was very, very good, and told the story of a lovable Panda named Po, who wanted nothing more than to worship at the feet of his heroes, the Furious Five, martial arts masters all. Instead, much to his surprise, Po is chosen by the universe to be the Dragon Warrior, and through hard work and sacrifice, gains the confidence and self-respect to defeat the evil Tai Lung, who is rampaging through the village.

In this second outing, Po is the undisputed Kung Fu master — better than any of the five. However, doubts still plague our chubby hero, this time around taking the form of familial identity. Po has come to the realization that he is adopted (His father is a goose who runs a noodle shop — go figure.) “Where do I belong?” “Who is my family?” These are the question that eat at him, but it seems that answers may be coming sooner than he thought.

The country is under siege from a wicked peacock who claims the throne of all of China. To back him up, he brings a terrible weapon — a device which uses the principal of the firework for evil and destruction as opposed to beauty and joy (basically a cannon). It’s up to the Furious Five and the Dragon Warrior to save the day.  Can good old fashioned Kung Fu beat this marvel of violent technology? Can Po find his lost lineage? And can Master Shifu ever gain inner peace will all that racket going on?!

“Kung Fu Panda 2” is a very cute and enjoyable film. Though not as good as the first movie, it is far and away better than most of the junk that comes out for kids these days. If it suffers, it is from a lack of charm, and that’s probably because it’s a sequel and none of the characters are quite as fresh and new.

What the writers don’t do, though, and this is where “Kung Fu Panda” remains true to the original feel, is succumb to the temptation to fill the film with veiled scatological or even gentle sexual humor. Compare it to a “Shrek” or “Ice Age,” and you’ll see what I mean. “Panda” still has wit, just not inappropriate wit. There were a few elements I could have done without. For one, the film is larger in scale and scope than the original. Fine — that’s par for the course with a sequel, but somewhat unnecessary, I think. The grander story took the focus off our heroes and lessened the emotional connection. The story’s not bad, just a little over-large.

Also, and this is becoming a frequent complaint for me, the 3D seemed a bit much. Not that it looked bad. Not at all, in fact. The animation is beautiful, and the 3D is sharp, but why? It doesn’t amount to that much extra to see, and doesn’t affect the storytelling at all.  So why do I have to pay $10 to see a matinee? In a lot of places, bigger markets naturally, these movies are showing in both 2D and 3D, with the 2D offered at the lower price. That’s the option I would have taken for the last three 3D movies I saw, had it been available. It’s a trend, I suppose, and we’ve just got to weather it, but I’m afraid that, much like gas prices when the cost of oil drops, the ticket price is going to stay sky-high even after the gimmick has gone away. Overall, though, I very much enjoyed “Kung Fu Panda 2” as did my son, who completed his movie-going ritual by running up to the front of the theater as the credits rolled, so he could stand right next to the screen, his tiny shadow projected among the innumerable names of the animators scrolling past. It’s pretty cute, and it makes me happy to know he’s developing a love of the movies, an interest that will hopefully serve him well.  Who knows, maybe he’ll become a columnist someday, just like his old man?

Or maybe I’m over-thinking again.

Grade: B+
“Kung Fu Panda 2” is rated PG for cartoon violence.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.