Jack Black returns as the voice of mighty martial-arts panda Po in Kung Fu Panda 2, the sequel to that 2008 animated gem. After establishing himself as the Dragon Warrior by vanquishing the evil Tai Lung and retrieving the Dragon Scroll in the earlier film, the new adventure involves Po’s search for his identity, and his quest for inner peace. He’s pitted against an evil peacock named Lord Shen (voiced by Gary Oldman) who killed his parents when he was a baby, and who is now threatening to conquer China using a fiery canon that will all but end the ancient art of kung fu.
Naturally Po’s accomplices in this showdown against Lord Shen are the members of the Furious Five, and much of the fun and inventiveness of this film comes from the teamwork between them. Po himself is the star of the show, and those who enjoyed the earlier film will be happy to know there are still plenty of jokes about Po being fat, lazy and constantly hungry. In fact, the very first time we see him in this film, he’s accepted a challenge to stuff 40 buns in his mouth.
The action scenes are bigger and better than the last time, and the animation itself is exceptional in terms of textures and lighting. Flashback sequences unfold in rich, comic-book style, and a climatic sequence in which Po dodges deadly canon-balls is the most visually arresting set-piece you’ve seen in an animation film recently.
But Kung Fu Panda 2 is also a film with heart. There are touching scenes between Po and his adoptive father, and an important message in the end: that inner peace can be attained only by confronting the past, then letting go of it.
A very worthy sequel to the first film, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a treat for animation lovers. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for this return to awesomeness!