Friday, May 27, 2011

Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda 2

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This is the weekend of the sequels. Early weekend releases The Hangover Part II and Kung Fu Panda 2 join last weekends Pirates of the Caribbean 4. The three movies will be battling it out to determine who will be the king of the long Memorial Day weekend box office. Two of the movies are available in 3D and one of them, Hangover, will rely solely on the ticket revenue from a 2D version.

With a special contest code from M&Ms that awarded me a $3 discount on a ticket I had my ticket money plunked down for the 2D version of Kung Fu Panda 2 instead of using the discount to pay the surcharge for the 3D version.

Kung Fu Panda 2 Movie Poster
A little shy of three years ago we met Po (Jack Black) as he went from an overweight, lazy, slacker panda to become the Dragon Warrior and join the elite kung fu fighters of the Furious Five: Tigress, Mantis, Viper, Monkey and Crane (Angelia Jolie, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan and David Cross) under the tutelage of Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman).

Now, the very existence of kung fu is threatened by Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) a pea fowl who has an axe to grind. Well, actually he has a cannon to shoot since he has learned how to use gun powder not for a beautiful display of fireworks but as a weapon for mass destruction and the conquering of China. What stands in way of Lord Shen's desires? According to the Soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh) something that is black and white. Might that be a panda? AND...could that panda be Po?

The battle lines have been drawn and we know that Po and Lord Shen will face off against each other. Po's skills have improved, but if it wasn't for the assistance of the Furious Five, he would have been toast a long time ago. His aligning with the Five is just what he needs to be an effective team player until he discovers a secret which shakes him to his core and rocks his chi. His father, Mr Ping, the goose that makes a delicious noodle soup and one mean, hot, steamed bun is horror of all horrors, not his real father. Insert dramatic duh dah here. Apparently Mr Ping never had the birds and bees talk with Po for Po to figure out that he didn't come from an egg.

The revelation of adoption and its aftermath is the weakest part of the movie. In movies and TV too many times the characters are shown to loose all self worth and wonder who they are when they discover that their biological parents, usually the mother, felt that someone else could do a better job raising them. Po looses confidence and starts playing mind games with himself questioning the love and care that his father, the goose, Mr Ping has given him since he took Po in as his own. That self doubt interferes with his ability to fight Lord Shen.

Fortunately, the rest of the movie makes up for this short coming. The relationship between Po and Tigress has deepened; Master Shifu giving his masterly advice to Po; Po's working though the necessary barriers to once again triumph good over evil all work in the character development department.

The story really moves along due to the overall story development and the methods used to tell it. When the story opens we are given the back story of Lord Shen. It is told using flat animated, 2D paper cutouts almost shadow puppet in form. As Po has flashbacks those images are again a flat 2D stylized animation form. At the end of the 90 minutes the credits are multi-layer 2D renderings that are well worth sitting through to enjoy. I'm sure in the 3D version they did more with this section. Sandwiched in between are the traditional computer renderings using shadow and highlights to give the 2D figures the look of 3D. The colors were bright and vibrant and the textures were highly detailed. From the fine lines in Lord Shen's feathers to the applique embroidery and stitches in vests and robes to the growth rings in a ram's or water buffalo's horns the nuances add to the graphical details giving further life to the characters.

One last special detail mention is for the fireworks. These fireworks sparkled and shimmered at a particle level like I haven't seen before. Tie that in with the smoke clouds and trails and you sit in your seat and ooooooh and aaaaaah during those scenes.

There is no easter egg at the end but as already mentioned, the credits are worth sitting through for the visuals of this movie rated PG for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence.

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