From Thursday’s Mood section of The Oklahoman. “Kung Fu Panda 2″ opens today. 3 1/2 of 4 stars.
Po the Panda smoothly flows from lovable loser to supercool warrior on a mission in the entertaining animated adventure “Kung Fu Panda 2.”
Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) is a ruthless peacock who tries to defeat Po and the Furious Five and take over China in DreamWorks Animation’s “Kung Fu Panda 2.” DreamWorks/Paramount Pictures photo
The sequel to the 2008 blockbuster lands a strong one-two punch with its fists-of-fury action and uproarious if over-the-top comedy. But it also sports gracefully beautiful animation and timeless themes about parent-child bonds, inner peace and ruinous pride.
The second film transitions seamlessly from the original, picking up shortly after Po the panda (voice of Jack Black) proved his mettle as the legendary Dragon Warrior by defeating a fierce, power-hungry snow leopard. It also slickly sets up the expected third film in the franchise.
Po has achieved his dream of joining the Furious Five — Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), Mantis (Seth Rogen) and Crane (David Cross) — the kung fu-fighting protectors of China’s Valley of Peace whom he once idolized.
Although he has taken a leadership role with the Five and become a skilled warrior, the still-pudgy panda maintains his wide-eyed sense of wonder, contagious enthusiasm and literally breathless disdain for walking long distances or up stairs.
But Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), who instructs Po and the Five, informs the panda that his mastery of kung fu won’t be complete until he finds inner peace.
For Po, that means going back to his unknown origins. His restaurateur dad, Mr. Ping (James Hong), is a goose who has taught him much about making noodles but never revealed how a bird came to parent a panda.
As Po seeks out the truth about his past, he crosses paths with vicious villain Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), a nefarious peacock with an unusual white and red color scheme.
It turns out that a foreboding prophecy from a soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh) prompted the evil bird to take drastic action against Po’s biological parents, leading to the panda’s abandonment as a baby at Mr. Ping’s noodle house.
With the help of his one-eyed lupine henchman the Wolf Boss (Danny McBride) and his vast wolf pack, Lord Shen returns with a scheme to build a weapon of unspeakable power and conquer China.
When Lord Shen uses that weapon to defeat fabled Masters Thundering Rhino (Victor Garber), Storming Ox (Dennis Haysbert) and Croc (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and retake the peacocks’ ancestral home of Gongmen City, Po and the Furious Five must take action to stop the bird baddie and save not only China but the art of kung fu itself.
“Kung Fu Panda” remains one of the better movies in the DreamWorks Animation canon, and the sequel builds economically on the story, themes and style of its predecessor. If the story comes across as derivative — in particular, it brings to mind The Bible, “The Lord of the Rings” and, of course, various martial arts movies — it is told masterfully, with plenty of humor and heart to balance the many action scenes.
The follow-up particularly excels visually: The fight sequences are fast-paced and believably executed, the landscapes are rendered with richly textured beauty, and the flashbacks and prologue gorgeously emulate ancient Chinese paintings.
And if you need one more reason to see it in the theater: “Kung Fu Panda 2” joins last year’s DreamWorks effort “How to Train Your Dragon” as one of the few 3-D recent releases actually worth paying the premium to see it in an extra dimension.