Dreamworks make good films... but none of them manage to match the excruciatingly high bar that Pixar has managed to create (and surpass) in the past few years.
"Kung Fu Panda 2" is an adorable tale that follows newly named "Dragon Warrior", Po (voiced by none other than Jack Black). Po, Tigress, Crane, Mantis, Monkey and Viper (The last five known collectively as the "ferocious five") have to protect China from falling into the evil clutches of an Albino peacock, known as Shen. Along the way, Po discovers a few secrets about his past, including who his real parents are, what happened to them and why he was raised by a noodle obsessed goose...
All in all, the plot was fairly strong, especially compared to some of Dreamworks previous sequel attempts (Do NOT even mention the fourth Shrek...) and possessed so much more heart than the original. Paternal relationships were explored countless times in this film, whether in passing reference (Mantis did not know his father as his mother ate his head) or in excruciating detail (Po does not know how to react around his adoptive father once he learns that he is not his biological father). It's a theme that numerous people can relate to, or at the very least, empathise with, and calls for the viewer to take their own relationship with their Father into account.
The humour in this was well delivered and good natured, coming thick and fast, usually in the form of phsyical gags, or gentle references that adults could pick up on (When Mr Ping asks Po how he knew he was adopted... Po is a panda, Mr Ping is a goose. It's fairly evident that they are not biologically related). There's something there for everyone, though, thankfully, it focuses on the primary audience, the children. The kids in our screening were squealing with laughter and muttered undisguishable words to their parents through the course of the movie, which, for an animation, is just about the equivalent of an Oscar. It means that they have fulfilled their purpose: The film has kept the kids amused.
The Panda massacre was heartbreaking. I look to one of my best friends, teary eyed, all she says is "So sad!". Some kid from behind us asked innocently "Why are you crying?" to his mother. I asked myself the same question. We can't deal with this level of emotion on screen. Animated panda's shouldn't induce such a strong emotional reaction in us all... but somehow, they do. We empathise, sympathise and most of all, we relate and we generalise. That's why we cry during animations. We don't see two animated panda's on screen. We see a Mother dying to protect her son. We see an orphaned baby panda... with massive eyes. We see a beautiful relationship, cut tragically short. It's a wonderful thing... but kids never understand quite how upsetting it is, until they grow up a little bid more and get a better understanding of the world.
The voice work was perfectly casted. Chilled out Jack Black could have easily be born to provide Po's voice, whereas Gary Oldman made a great choice for the villainous Shen. Most other characters had only a minor role (even the ferocious five) so to analyse the effectiveness of the actors who provided the additional voices wouldn't really be fair.
The striking thing about the film was the amazing visuals, vibrant and clear, a true testament to the improvements in C.G.I. in recent years, Dreamworks has always managed to create stunning landscapes in it's films, Shrek being the prime example of this.
Hans Zimmer composed the music for this film, this guy... he's the greatest composer in the whole of Hollywood right now, I don't doubt that statement for a second. I have nothing but respect for this guy. The music fits perfectly with the action on screen and is a huge contributing factor to why the upsetting scenes tug on your heart-strings so sad. It's down to the music... it's always down to the music in these sort of scenes.
Go to watch Kung Fu Panda 2 if you are in the mood for a light-hearted frenzy of fun and humour, with several scenes that are more than enough to move sensitive audience members to tears.
If you're not in the mood for that, then just go to see Baby Po.
How cute is he?!