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.
I recall writing in my review for the original Kung Fu Panda that it featured some of the best surround audio I had experienced and the sequel somehow surpasses that achievement. This Dolby TrueHD 7.1 lossless soundtrack is simply perfect. From crystal clear dialog at all times to the woosh of cannonballs as the flash past to small tinkles of ambient noise always occurring this soundtrack wowed me from start to finish. The surround field is used to such a great effect that I constantly felt drawn into the movie and action. Loud moments are perfectly accompanied by an appropriate level of subwoofer response. As good as the visuals are in this film the audio is somehow even better.
The film itself may be slightly above average but the care and attention given to the visuals, audio and extras is truly staggering. Kung Fu Panda 2 has a large amount of high quality extras ranging from short films and commentaries to in depth animation techniques and inspirations. For a true fan of the process, genre and film series there is a treasure trove of content here.
- Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Masters (1080p, Dolby TrueHD 7.1, 1.78:1, 23:00): An amusing tale from the Kung Fu Panda universe.
- The Animators’ Corner: This feature is one that deserves to be watched by anyone that loves animation, the series or any aspect of filmmaking, heck, just watch it! This expansive picture in picture features looks at everything from animation techniques, voice acting, action sequences, the artists and how they affected the look and much much more. This is truly a great extra and one I loved experiencing.
- Animation Inspiration (1080p): Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson shows us an interactive map that chronicles the crews trip to China to obtain location inspirations for the film. Options include Panda Village, Musicians Village, Valley of Peace, Journey Across China, Gongmen City, Tower of the Sacred Flame, Valley of Peace Town, and The Harbor. By digging into these sections you can see photographs, hear narration and see comparative scenes from the film.
- Trivia Track: A pop-up track that covers a whole lot of information, including character trivia, behind-the-scenes anecdotes, small connections between the first and second films, and a counter for the number of times the phrase “Inner Peace” is uttered.
- Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness (1080p, Dolby Digital 5.1, 1.78:1, 23:50): An episode of the Nickelodeon television program entitled “Has Been Hero.”
- Kickin’ It with the Cast (1080p, 12:42): A purely marketing driven
- Deleted Scenes (1080p, 4:21): These scenes are quite basic and feature an introduction from the director: Fight Club — Bartender Scene (test), Po Chasing the Crow (test), and Po in Gongmen City (test).
- Panda Stories (1080p, 7:44): A look at the animals that inspired Kung Fu Panda and footage of Jack Black’s visit to the Atlanta Zoo to meet Po’s real-life namesake.
- Kung Fu Shuffle (1080p): Master Shifu teaches the best way to find a hidden radish in an update of the classic shell game.
- Ni Hao (1080p): Learn Chinese! Choose from more than 50 Kung Fu Panda-inspired words and learn how to say and draw the symbol in Chinese. This is a pretty neat feature that my kids enjoyed.
- Filmmakers’ Commentary: Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson; Producer Melissa Cobb; Production Designer Raymond Zibach; and Supervising Animator, Kung Fu Choreographer, and Story Artist Rodolphe Guenoden give a quite good commentary that covers a wide range of detail. There lots of very cool tidbits on the technical and artistic work involved in pulling off a film like this that make it well worth listening too.
- World of DreamWorks Animation (1080p): Music, previews, and more for Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, and Megamind.
- Previews (1080p): DreamWorks Dragons, Puss in Boots, Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, How to Train Your Dragon Arena Spectacular, and Kung Fu Panda 2 THQ Game.
- Digital Copy
- DVD Copy.
- Kung Fu Panda World Online Game Memberships: Get two free memberships—each good for game play through April 2012 and to the online virtual game world where kids create avatars, play games with their favorite characters, win points towards earning a kung fu black belt, chat with friends and more!
The Final Word
Kung Fu Panda 2 may not have the same magic as the original but it is a perfectly fun movie. What truly stands out though is the godlike perfection of the transfer. The video quality is stupendous and the audio is one of the best I have ever heard. This film made me want to upgrade my system as few have before and for that alone I highly recommend this package. The great extras are a wonderful icing on the cake as well.