Natyflix: Kung Fu Panda 2, a.k.a. “Sequels Are Hard”

July 13, 2011

Brandon asked ever-so-nicely if I would like to add content to JKP! and I said yes. I’m working on a post about my experience playing Dragon Age II [picking up where Eric left off -ed] as a mage, a mage who romanced every romanceable character in the game, because the game presented me with that option, so how could I not?

More on that later. In the mean time, I’ve seen quite a few movies…

.:: – Kung Fu Panda 2 – ::.

The film has to take an existing character dynamic and make it fresh, advancing either the characters’ relationships with each other or with their world. Preferably both, but most sequels fall flat in the story department, filling their shortcomings with fancy VFX and re-hashed jokes. Kung Fu Panda 2 suffers from a lack of focus on character progression and one too many Jack Blackisms. The thing that made Po such a loveable character in the first movie was his unwavering need to learn kung fu. Having achieved that, I’d expected to see him learning to hone those skills in the second installment and become a true master instead of an accidental master.

But for much of Kung Fu Panda 2 we must endure Po being helped along by the Furious Five and quipping about finding shortcuts and cheats to get things done. A marvelous opportunity for Po to learn the meaning of hard work in exchange for continued kung fu greatness was missed because none of the Furious Five bothered to call him out on his laziness. Tigriss starts to when she tells him she spent 20 years punching ironwood trees, but there’s no real follow through in the conversation. If anything, the scene reveals more about Tigriss’ character than Po’s. Even after Po masters the sacred technique of inner peace like an idiot savant, he continues bumbling through every scene, lacking refinement in his kung fu.

Another missed opportunity for characterization is the reveal of how Po came to have a goose for a father. Now I love Po’s goose dad. Love him, I think he’s adorable with his yarn noodle hat and endless cooking metaphors. The scenes between him and Po about what constitutes family are some of the most touching and poignant moments in the whole film. Po, on the other hand, doesn’t make me believe that he cares about his past. It’s just another minor irritant in his day, like being hungry. The movie tries to play off Po’s distraction from the task at hand as a result of the resurgence of suppressed traumatic memories, but it never manages to do this in a meaningful way. I’m not asking for a statement of the obvious, but in the scene where Tigriss realizes something is bothering Po and offers to spar with him on the boat, she could’ve asked for an honest answer from Po. Or Po could’ve opened up to her about what was bothering him and why he was acting like a screw-up. It would’ve made for an even better bonding moment between them, especially after Tigriss was so affronted by Po in the first movie. Bam. The issue of Po’s past, out in the open, all in one neat, tidy little conversation.

The last major fault I had with this movie was Jack Black himself. In the first movie, Po was voiced by Jack Black. In the sequel, Po was Jack Black, and I kept getting hung up on it. There are plenty of big name actors lending their voices in this movie, but I wasn’t preoccupied with the fact that Gary Oldman was voicing Master Shen or that Angelina Jolie was Tigriss. Somewhere down the pipeline, the director and the writers needed to check themselves and remember that Po was theirs, created by them to tell a story of their design, and not an extension of Jack Black’s comedy routine.

Did I like any part of Kung Fu Panda 2? Yes, I did. Master Shen, the warmongering peacock made a wonderfully dynamic villain. His fighting technique was very enjoyable, as were all the fight scenes. James Baxter Animation and Shine returned to handle the 2D titles, dream, and flashback sequences, which were gorgeous. The new environments were beautifully designed, and Po’s goose dad was adorable.

I personally didn’t connect with Kung Fu Panda 2 the way I did with its predecessor, and wouldn’t pay to see it again. When it comes to tv, I’ll watch it.

~Naty

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