Fans of the 2008 original will recall that the movie ended with the titular panda, Po (voiced by Jack Black), attaining Dragon Warrior status and the respect of the Furious Five, but while knowing the back story would certainly enhance the enjoyment of this film, Kung Fu Panda 2 stands on its own four paws.
The film picks up a short time after the first. Still lacking a few graces, Po has nonetheless become a Master of Kung Fu and fights alongside his friends wherever trouble strikes. This time around, trouble comes in the form of an exiled peacock, Lord Shen (Gary Oldman). Shen has developed a new weapon that cannot be defeated by kung fu and has plans to take over China—unless Po, Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Viper (Lucy Liu), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Crane (David Cross) and Mantis (Seth Rogen) can stop him.
What makes this mission more than the everyday run-of-the-mill “going to save China” day at the office is the revelation that Shen played a major role in Po’s past. With Po distracted and the Masters in Gongmen City refusing to help the cause, things look bleak. “How do you stop a weapon that stops kung fu?” Po wonders.
The answer to that question lies in the gorgeously animated journey. The animators have imparted a sense of the beauty and scope of China, using light and shadow in a way that helps this film rise above a mere cartoon. The writing by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger (Kung Fu Panda) maintains just the right blend of humor and drama. Tigress, especially, has some funny bits. (For example: “I just found out my dad isn’t really my dad,” Po laments. “Your father…the goose?” Tigress deadpans. “That must have been quite a shock.”)
Ultimately, Po finds inner peace, but at what cost? The film ends with the setup for the next installment in the franchise, which now has an even higher bar to meet than this sequel did.
Now available as a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack with digital copy (DreamWorks Animation Home Entertainment, MSRP: $49.99) or an Awesome Double DVD Pack (MSRP: $40.99; single-disc DVD MSRP: $29.99), Kung Fu Panda 2 is well worth the price. No one documents the movie-making experience quite like DreamWorks, and the abundance of features on the two-disc sets prove it.
Along with the usual deleted scenes (always fun to watch in an animated movie, as they’re usually sketches with fill-in voices), there are no less than three ways to enhance the movie for Blu-ray owners. “The Animators’ Corner,” a Blu-ray exclusive, traces the development of the movie from sketch to screen picture-in-picture style so the interviews and vignettes flow over the top of the feature film. This peek behind the curtain reveals the many hours of work that go into something as simple as the introduction, among other things.
Fact collectors will love the trivia track, another Blu-ray exclusive, while film buffs will enjoy the filmmakers’ commentary (available on both the DVD and Blu-ray releases), which covers more of the directorial decisions and anecdotes about filming via director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, producer Melissa Cobb, production designer Raymond Zibach and supervising animator, kung fu choreographer and story artist Rodolphe Guenoden.
A second mini-movie, Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Masters, is a nice complement to the main story. In this short film, viewers learn the history of Masters Croc (Jean-Claude Van Damme), Rhino (Victor Garber) and Ox (Dennis Haysbert), and how they came to rise above their street-fighter beginnings to earn Master status. Viewers are taken on quite an emotional journey for such a short film, and the cast is pitch-perfect in their voice roles.
The beautiful interactive feature “Animation Inspiration,” the final Blu-ray exclusive, allows viewers to take a trip to China alongside the filmmakers and see photos and video of some of the places that influenced the rich visual environment of Kung Fu Panda 2, such as the Valley of Peace, Gongmen City and the Musician’s Village. The map menu is gorgeous, and the locations are breathtaking.
“Kickin' It with the Cast” showcases the many voice talents involved with the movie, showing them both in the process of recording and in interviews, explaining their character motivations, inspirations and the way the characters have impacted their lives. Watching James Hong, who voices Po’s father Mr. Ping, attack his relatively small part with the enthusiasm of a star is particularly fun to watch.
Nature lovers should love “Panda Stories: Inside the World of the Giant Panda.” This mini-documentary follows the birth of a real-life baby panda at the Atlanta Zoo, even including the traditional Chinese naming ceremony as the baby reaches 100 days old (watching Jack Black reveal the panda’s new name at the event is a highlight). Among the lighthearted antics, however, is the message that these lovable bears are very much endangered and need the support of animal lovers the world over.
Also included is a full-length episode of the Nickelodeon TV series “Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness.” “Has Been Hero” pits the TV version of Po (voiced here by Mick Wingert) against an aging idol who is now out for revenge. The series is a nice spin-off of the movies, despite only Liu and Hong returning to voice their characters.
There are a few cute interactive sections, too, that are suitable for kids. The Kung Fu Shuffle game allows users to choose between a bunny or baby Po, then keeping their eyes on the prize as three baskets or crates are shuffled. Parents who are tired of kids speaking in just one language can flip to the Nǐ Hǎo feature, where they can learn to say (and write!) some simple Chinese phrases.
In addition to the features on the discs, those who purchase the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack should watch out for the digital dopy download code (used in conjunction with the DVD disc) among the package inserts, while those who purchase either the two-disc Blu-ray or DVD release should be on the lookout for a code for two free memberships to the Kung Fu Panda World online virtual game.
Overall, the two-disc releases of Kung Fu Panda 2 contain hours of enjoyment for the whole family.
Kung Fu Panda 2 is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
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Published on SoCal.com