From Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
“Kung Fu Panda 2 Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy
With “Kung Fu Panda 2,” one of DreamWorks Animation’s most winning adventures gains a nimble successor as well as a canny setup for a third film.
As expected, the sequel to the 2008 blockbuster lands a strong one-two punch with its fists-of-fury action and uproarious if sometimes over-the-top comedy. Surprisingly, “Kung Fu Panda 2” also happens to be far more visually striking than it has to be. Director Jennifer Yuh and her talented team effectively transport viewers to ancient China and deftly use various animation styles to tell different parts of the storytelling.
In his second cinematic outing, loveable Po the panda (voiced by Jack Black, who reaffirms that he was perfectly cast) 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 famed kung fu-fighting protectors of the Valley of Peace. Although he is now a skilled warrior and leader of the band, Po is still a bit like the Five’s awkward younger brother with his pudgy physique, cuddly goofiness and hero-worshipping enthusiasm.
Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), who instructs Po and the Five, informs the panda that he won’t be a true kung fu master until he achieves inner peace, which for Po means delving into his mysterious origins. After all, his restaurateur dad, Mr. Ping (James Hong), is a goose who has been less than willing to discuss how he came to father a panda.
The secrets of Po’s puzzling past are painfully revealed when the villainous Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), a crafty albino peacock, reemerges from exile leading a pack of vicious wolves and wielding a devastating secret weapon that threatens the very existence of kung fu.
“Kung Fu Panda 2” ups the ante in many ways, bringing Michelle Yeoh, Dennis Haysbert and Jean-Claude Van Damme to the A-list voice cast, boosting the intensity of the fight sequences and adding even bigger action set pieces. But the sequel makes its greatest strides artistically: The realism of the computer-animated action contrasts effectively with the clever flashbacks, which are done in a hand-drawn style, and the gorgeous prologue, which calls to mind ancient Chinese shadow puppets.
The best of the Blu-ray features is an interactive “animation inspiration” map that shows how different locales in the movie were inspired by actual Chinese landmarks. The Blu-ray also offers the options of playing the movie with a trivia track or “The Animators’ Corner,” which incorporates behind-the-scenes interviews and drawings.
Other bonus features include the fun new animated short “Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Masters,” an episode of the Nickelodeon series “Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness,” filmmakers commentary, deleted scenes, cast interviews, games and a Mandarin Chinese language lesson.