By Jonathan Decker
KUNG-FU PANDA 2 REVIEW (GRADE: A):
The original Kung-Fu Panda marked the beginning of Dreamwork Animation Studios bid to out-Pixar Pixar. This is to say that Dreamworks, known at that point for silly animated adventures, began to display sophistication and real heart in its films and storytelling. After wowing us with the fantastic How to Train Your Dragon, it opted to give us a Panda sequel, which everyone expected (given the financial success of the first). However, rather than lazily throw together a half-hearted money-grabber, they have taken the time to lovingly craft a worthy follow-up that does everything a good sequel should: it gives audiences what they want while taking the story in new directions and giving the characters room to grow. Jack Black continues to be perfect for Po, while Angelina Jolie, as Tigress, is given more to do here than before, displaying suprising nuances, warmth, and layers to her character. Gary Oldman is obviously having fun as the new villain.
The animation is lush and finely detailed. The action sequences are inventive; I especially like how the Furious Five and Po work in perfect harmony as a team, compensating for Po's obesity and playing to each other's strengths. There are moments in their battles that are borderline iconic. Though Po has developed true talent as a martial artist, he's still clumsy and a bit of a cowardly geek, making him all the more charming (much like Jackie Chan's old screen persona, though Chan himself is underused here as Monkey).
Though the film is slightly less laugh-out-loud funny than the original, it packs an emotional wallop that I didn't see coming. Honestly, it is quite touching. Another welcome suprise is the musical score. It's rich and moving; props to composers John Powell and Hans Zimmer for going the extra mile when a cliche soundtrack could've been slapped on without complaint. You have earned my iTunes purchase, sirs.
CONTENT OVERVIEW: Kung-Fu Panda 2 is rated PG. It contains no innuendo or profanity. There is some very mild crude humor and plenty of martial arts kicking/punching. However, the heroes fight only to protect the innocent and are otherwise portrayed as peace-loving. It is implied that a villain kills several characters offscreen.
MESSAGES TO DISCUSS: Painful circumstances from the past can shape strong character in the present. Inner peace comes from right action and from facing our fears with courage. Adoptive families are capable of love and connection equal to that of blood families.
Looking for another awesome family martial arts movie? Check out The Forbidden Kingdom! Rent or buy it here.
Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.