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Kung Fu Panda 2
Genre Animation

Kung Fu Panda 2 is a sequel, and sequels generally have two options... one, stick to the formula and deliver more of the same or two, reinvent and approach from a new perspective. The Spider-Man franchise delivered a darker, more introspective sequel as a follow-up to the successful reboot of the live-action Spider-Man superhero. While Spider-Man introduced us to the character of Peter Parker becoming a hero, Spider-Man 2 introduced us to the darker side of the character as he grappled with his sense of identity, both public and secret.

In many respects, Kung Fu Panda has modeled itself on Spider-Man. Both unlikely heroes, cast in the deep end, required to master their art and forced to wage war on a powerful enemy, while emotionally fragmented. The stories share several parallels and its a darker heart that drives both sequels.

Kung Fu Panda was the animated equivalent of Kung Fu Hustle a parody of kung fu movies, an animated comedy from Dreamworks that followed the general happy-go-lucky, feel good formula of movies like Shrek and Madagascar as a band of friends overcome an obstacle, grapple with their sense of identity and ultimately triumph. However, just like Shrek Forever After... Dreamworks has opted to go darker with more mature themes and less feel good comedy.

Apart from a few corny lines from Po, Kung Fu Panda 2's script could have been adapted for live-action. Director Jennifer Yuh (Spawn), has brought a tide of darkness to Kung Fu Panda 2. Her eye for aesthetic beauty heightens the special effects of the action sequences, while expressing a darker element in the story. Another name that enters the credits is Guillermo del Toro of Pan's Labyrinth, who appears as executive producer.

The focus is still on Po, voiced by Jack Black, but the rest of his team have retreated to the shadows. They're still in the picture, but there's very little time to recognise the voices of Angelina Jolie as Tigress, Dustin Hoffman as Shifu, Jackie Chan as Monkey, Seth Rogen as Mantis and David Cross as Crane. Gary Oldman has taken over as the evil Shen, while a slew of other name actors have padded the ensemble including: Lucy Liu, James Hong, Michelle Yeoh, Danny McBride, Dennis Haybert and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

The soundtrack from Hans Zimmer emphasises their mission for perceived maturity. The voice artists are good, but there's a disconnectedness from the supporting characters - as though they phoned in their performances. Even the two leads in Po and Shen are a little hollow. The series has been refreshed by a strong anime influence with surprisingly mature themes. However, this reinvention is double-edged as some fans of the lighter, family-friendly Kung Fu Panda will find the movie a little too intense for their little ones.

Kung Fu Panda 2 is more emotional, using its sombre tones and heartwarming moments to good effect. It's largely entertaining, apart from a sluggish start and enchants the audience with stunning 3D and visual artistry. Bands of light and colour infuse the fight sequences, making the experience beautiful. While solid in all departments, it lacks the emotional spark and comic energy of the original - making it somewhat disappointing. A worthwhile watch, but not the feel good animated feature most were hoping for.

The bottom line: Fresh.


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