Our story begins in the aftermath of the first Kung Fu Panda. Po (Black) has become China's protector, the dragon master (referencing his style of Kung Fu). For this adventure, in order to stave off China's destruction and imprisonment, Po has teamed with a group of newly-minted Kung Fu masters. The strongest is Tigress (Jolie), followed by Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross). Given that only Chan is recognized for his martial arts prowess, his character is specifically tailored to his genuine abilities. The others represent prominent Kung Fu styles that are practiced throughout the martial arts world (cultures and societies). Together they are a fearsome force that can dominate any battle no matter how ostensibly impossible the odds. This is why Po's old enemy (though it takes time for him to come to this realization), has harnessed the destructiveness of gunpowder to create a new weapon capable of eradicating Kung Fu.
Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) begins his reign of terror by kidnapping innocent geese, pigs and pandas. Subsequently, he subdues Gongman City along with its otherwise indomitable guardians Master Ox (Dennis Haysbert) and Master Croc (Jean-Claude Van Damme). Both Ox and Croc are incarcerated and their fighting spirits are diminished. Lord Shen achieves this wholesale subjugation with his new powerful weapon, the CANNON (not the camera people!). Po is confused about his to destroy this projectile weapon. As usual, he has no definitive plan. It is his love of life, sense of humor, and exuberance as a do-gooder that propels him blindly into combat. Besides, with China's foremost Kung Fu practitioners by his side what can possibly go wrong?
The backdrop of Kung Fu Panda 2 is Po's search for clarity about his parents. For some reason he lived under the illusion that Mr. Ping (James Hong) is his father, despite the obvious dissimilarity. Geese are at a different end of the evolutionary spectrum when compared with pandas! Lord Shen's peacock feather markers give Po fits of insecurity and doubt as they cause flashbacks of a traumatic time in his youth. According to his sagacious elderly mentor (Dustin Hoffman as Shifu or master), only through achieving inner peace and serenity can Lord Shen and his much maligned weapon be defeated. Throughout Po's assaults on the evildoer and his wolfish armies, memories of his parents' death and the manner in which they died, haunt him relentlessly. The question remains, can Po achieve inner sanctity and stop Lord Shen from conquering and ravaging all of China?
In Kung Fu Panda 2 the martial arts choreography and the Chinese cultural history are beautifully represented. All of the characters have compelling personalities. Mixing together the light-hearted humor of Jack Black with genuine and often grim situations requires great balance and timing. This is why Black, Angelina Jolie, and James Hong work so well together, they execute their lines with expertise. Gary Oldman plays Lord Shen with pizzazz and panache. He sounds like the arch-villain that is psychologically unstable and unhinged. For those of you that are old enough to remember, Hong played David Lopan in Big Trouble in Little China. To watch animals that are personified perform martial arts stunts in high definition animation is a sight to behold. Kung Fu Panda 2 is more than a children's film, it is a work of art enveloping two cultures, two worlds, and ways of life into one sparkling gem.
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