The original Kung Fu Panda worked mostly because it was a fast paced tale of an oddball discovering himself and becoming a hero. The inevitable sequel picks up where the original left off but loses some of the magic because the sense of discovery is gone. It is a quality movie, but just not at the level of the original. Now that it is out on Blu-ray with a Panda sized offering of extras it is worth another look.
Kung Fu Panda 2 starts with our hero Po (Jack Black) as the recognized Dragon Warrior and travelling around on adventures with the Furious five (Monkey (Jackie Chan), Crane (David Cross), Viper (Lucy Liu), Mantis (Seth Rogen) and Tigress (Angelina Jolie). He is fully part of the team but still continues to train with Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) as well as act as silly as a giant food loving Panda voiced by Jack Black would.
During a routine bandit fight at a local village Po is shocked nearly senseless by a glimpse at a flag symbol which generates a flashback to his childhood. It turns out a crazed peacock named Shen (Gary Oldman) was banished by his family for his cruelty after a prophecy declared he would be defeated by a warrior of black and white. He made it his mission to eliminate all Pandas and is shocked to discover that Po somehow survived his purge. Po encounters Shen and pursues him at first because Shen has developed cannons that are signaling the end of Kung Fu and later because he wants to discover more about his past.
Kung Fu Panda 2 is a movie that delivers a lot of great fight scenes and some chuckle inducing lines but fails to live up to the first movies sense of wonder. In the original movie Po was discovering his inner spirit and how it is OK to be who you are and work to your strengths. The character was oversized, clumsy and constantly obsessed about food and that helped the story work. The sequel gives us a more confident Po that is simply less charming and entertaining despite the attempts to rekindle the magic from the original.
That is not to say the film is not good, it is quite enjoyable and looks absolutely amazing (especially the final climactic battle). I also really appreciated the villain of Shen, a more fragile and nuanced character then the brutish Tai Lung from the first film. He is an extremely capable fighter with a number of tricks up his sleeve, but he realizes he cannot fight the masters and uses the cannons and his henchmen as well. His preening and lack of confidence are also surprisingly deep touches for an animated film like this one.
At the end of the day Kung Fu Panda 2 is a capable animated adventure. Jack Black is still perfect as Po and the rest of the star studded cast is still woefully underused (at least Angelina Jolie’s Tigress gets more screen time). My complaint stems from the fact that it seemed to have lost a bit of the magic that made the first so enjoyable to watch over and over again. I truly think that is simply the fact that Po needed to evolve and his true charm was his naivety and clumsiness, getting past that was inevitable and takes away from the series slightly.
Stunning is all I can think of to say about this Blu-ray transfer and overall image quality of the film itself. Dreamworks animation is truly sitting at a level next to Pixar these days, especially with this release. From start to finish Kung Fu Panda 2 blew me away with it’s visual style and clarity. The images on the screen are vibrant, detailed and represented absolutely perfectly on the screen. My only desire when watching this was that I had a bigger and newer screen so I could soak up the visuals even more.
On a techincial front this transfer is flawless; colors leap out of the screen (especially when Shen unfurls his tail feathers, wow), black levels are so deep you could swim in them and textures are nearly touchable. There is no artifacting, blurriness or digital noise. This is quite simply a phenomenal transfer of a stunning looking CG film, a true reference quality Blu-ray.