Director: Jennifer Yuh
Cast: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan
Kung Fu Panda 2 was always inevitable. The first film's success ensured Dreamworks would churn out another like a straight-to-VHS Disney sequel, with bigger action and louder fart jokes. But while it reeks of corporate spreadsheets, Kung Fu Panda 2: The Kaboom of Doom is a great sequel. Yes, even better than The Return of Jafar.
For most of Jennifer Yuh's action comedy, it's business as usual. Po (Black) is still a panda. And he still knows kung fu. Leading the Furious Five - Tigress (Jolie), Mantis (Rogen), Viper (Liu), Crane (Cross) and Monkey (Chan) - everyone in the Valley of Peace knows who the Dragon Warrior is. But does he know himself?
It's a Serious Dramatic Question that leads to much soul-searching and cute baby panda flashbacks. Is Po's father really his biological dad? Shockingly, no, it turns out that a goose can't give birth to a panda after all - a relief to all parents with highly inquisitive children.
Naturally, Po's moving search for his pappy mirrors the backstory of the franchise's new villain: Lord Shen (Oldman). A peacock who throws feathers like knives, he's an angry bird with a score to settle. And he plans to do so with massive cannons. And a lot of gunpowder. Shen's explosive machinery means the death of kung fu as we know it, laments Master Shifu (Hoffman). "Awww, but I just got kung fu!" whines Jack Black.
And so it continues, Black deflating every scene with a bathos that never gets old. The rest of the cast are clearly enjoying it as well, from Seth Rogen's hysterical vocals to newcomers Michelle Yeoh and, yes, Jean-Claude van Damme. But while the verbal one-liners hit the spot ("I'm not freaking out!" claims a panicking Po, "I'm freaking IN!") it's the visuals that astound.
The fight choreography is incredible, serving up attacks tailored to each animal's shape and size. The punch-ups repeat the original film's run of slapstick gags, but they still amuse. Yuh's command of style is impressive too, using a range of animation techniques to keep things vibrant.
Kung Fu Panda 2 is never less than obvious, with its family-value message and more-of-the-same formula. But there's something inherently funny about a fat bear hitting people in the face - and Dreamworks know it. As long as they maintain that fun sense of character and keep wheeling out the fluffy baby pandas, it's pretty hard to resist this adorable cash-in.
You could argue it belongs on DVD shelves next to Disney's pile of part twos, but Kung Fu Panda's sequel is closer to Toy Story 2 than most. Besides, did The Return of Jafar have Gary Oldman playing a psychotic peacock? No. No it didn't.
A kick in the balls to other money-grabbing sequels, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a laugh-out-loud fest of purest awesome.
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