Published May 26, 2011Three summers ago, Kung Fu Panda was a big animated hit because it gave kids a fun ride and parents clever laughs; it was smart and charming for all. Jack Black was the voice behind a slacker panda bear named Po, who becomes an unlikely kung fu master. He unwittingly hooked up with the Furious Five, a team of badass martial artists ― Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Monkey (Jackie Chan) ― to fight the bad guys.
They're all back for this sequel, which is still fun and smart, but not as satisfying. For starters, most of the conflict is gone. The Furious Five, particularly Tigress, no longer resist, taunt or challenge Po ("you, a martial artist?"). Instead, everyone is buddy-buddy. Po's teacher, Shifu, is barely in this movie, so that Jedi-like relationship is gone. After all, Po is now a kung fu master, so what does he need kicking lessons for?
The only conflict happens between Po and Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), a standard villainous peacock who threatens to overtake China with a new invention called a canon. Can Po and the FF stop him?
The twist is that Shen knows what happened to Po's real parents. Turns out that Po was adopted and yearns to find out what happened to his parents and whether they loved him or not. That's not a new plot device (think Star Wars) and it barely works here. It doesn't help that Shen is a paper-thin villain, lacking depth.
What sustains the film is Po's lovable character, and the dazzling 3D animation, which is some of the best I've seen. Panda 2 is a good adventure on the 3D screen, but doesn't live up to its superior predecessor. (Paramount/Dreamworks)