It is rare that a sequel lives up to its original. On occasion, the sequel even surpasses the original: Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather: Part 2, The Dark Knight. As a sequel, Kung Fu Panda 2 certainly compliments the original film and in some ways it is even more entertaining.
The best way to judge a sequel is to identify what made the original movie successful and compare not only how it measures up, but how it both compliments the original while also possessing something unique. So let’s see how this one measures up.
In the first movie, Po learns to believe in himself in his quest to become the Dragon Warrior. In the sequel, Po must come to terms with his past and find inner peace. Both of these storylines are entertaining and relatable for viewers young and old. More important, it’s not a recycled plot as Po is further developed as a character.
Part of what made the original Kung Fu Panda so successful was the cast of voice actors. Typically, I can’t stand Angelina Jolie, but her giant lips and huge forehead don’t get in the way of her performance as Tigress. The voices of Seth Rogen and David Cross fit their characters perfectly and Rogen has some of the best laugh out loud lines of the film. Dustin Hoffman is Dustin Hoffman. Probably the only disappointment of this sequel is that Hoffman doesn’t get as much screen time as the first. Thankfully Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan are just as limited in their roles though. I think Chan has all of two lines yet again.
The additions to the cast are fantastic! First Gary Oldman plays the villainous peacock, Lord Shen. Tai Lung was a fearsome Snow Leopard out for revenge – a force to be reckoned with. Lord Shen is a more devious and twisted villain. While both villains feel spurned by their “parents” and are on a rampage for power, they are very different in approach. Where Tai Lung would punch and smash you into submission, Shen “cheats” with hidden throwing knives and explosives. His Kung Fu is more subversive and smooth – fitting for a peacock.
The creative use of animals is also continued. Kung Fu Panda 2 adds gorillas, wolves, rams, antelope, sheep, an oxen, and a crocodile to the ensemble. Each of these animals is matched perfectly with the voice actor, adding Jean-Claude Van Damm (Master Croc), Victor Garber (Master Thundering Rhino), Dennis Haysbert (Master Oxen), Danny McBride (Wolf Boss), and Michelle Yeoh (Soothsayer).
This is where the sequel surpasses the original. As a peacock, Lord Shen uses an army of wolves and gorillas to fulfill his plot to take over China. Thus, the furious five (plus Po) take on a plethera of foes. The action rivals any Saturday afternoon Kung Fu marathon. I particularly enjoy how the fighting styles fit the animals just like in the first film.
The writing of Jonathen Aibel and Glenn Berger is just as witty and the slapstick humor returns as well. The food jokes and fat jokes return. Po bounces off of several hard surfaces and has difficulty climbing stairs. Jack Black, Rogen, and Cross are naturally funny without running rampant to the point of annoyance (as they often are allowed to do in their live action films). Best of all, though, is that while all these humorous strategies are repeated, they aren’t just a recycled version of those from the first movie. What made the first movie funny was Dustin Hoffman as the straight man. Who better to replace him as the straight man than Gary Oldman?
All in all, this movie was very entertaining. It matched all the strengths of the original and it offered a unique story that complimented its prequel. It even hints at a trilogy, which got me and my seven-year-old son thinking. What animal would make a great villain for the third movie?
He picked a Cobra. I chose a Rat.
What do you think?