Kung Fu Panda 2 doesn’t look forward so much as it looks back, Po (Jack Black) forced into the realization he was adopted while dealing with the abandonment from his parents. It’s a darker swing for this now franchise, keeping Po in the dark figuratively and literally, while creating a character synergy between the punching panda and his adversary.
The killer peacock on the opposing side of this cartoon martial arts fest is Shen (Gary Oldman), threatening all of China with his fireworks loaded cannons. Personal journeys ensue as often as action lights up, giving this sequel a smart dose of depth to push it from the genre norms.
Po’s characterization hasn’t changed, still bumbling, still stupid, and still over excited at the littlest thing. Training, in his case, hasn’t paid off. That beckons the Furious Five to take over, handling the brawling load until Po can gain inner peace for the one-on-cannon finale. Action scenes are energetic, creating reasons to not only kick talking animals in the face, but to chase through varied city streets while knocking over record numbers of fruit carts.
It’s all visually arresting, Kung Fu Panda 2 embracing a multifaceted style of animation, keeping itself fresh as the back story takes on a traditional slant. Quite honestly, watching an entire movie with this frenzied, paper doll appearance would be appreciated. It’s almost a shame the upcoming TV series didn’t follow this path.
There’s no loss of eccentric charm for Dreamworks’ latest offering, the writing team remaining on cue and the snappy dialogue timing itself. There’s a lesson here too, a strong one about dealing with turmoil, finding a way through it, and coming to terms when things head south. As it turns out, this series can churn out positive messages and keep the kids quiet for a bit. It’s a double bonus, unless the flick sucks in the parents too… which it likely will.
Black levels? They rock. Colors? They rock. Detail? It rocks. Sharpness? It rocks. The encode? Totally rocks. Skadoosh.
Are we done here? Fine, if you insist. After the aliasing debacle of Megamind, it probably raised some doubts, but they’re misguided in the end. Kung Fu Panda’s AVC encode is lovingly crafted, free from banding, and there’s certainly no aliasing. The image maintains its integrity under stressful circumstances, including those frantic fights or spectacular fireworks displays.
Animation boosts means added flair, or fur really. Po and his crew are meticulously lined with visible, individualized hairs. That’s a testament to the animation team first, the Blu-ray second. Sharpness never falls from its guided path to the inevitable goal of perfection, and those 2D snippets are just as crisp.
Even though it is a melancholy downer at times, the movie offers a variety of locales and reasons to explode in a flurry of primaries. Saturation is high to keep the kids appeased, the brilliance of the oranges and reds coming from Shen’s lair immaculate. Get used to them too, much of the back half pouring on the fiery red as boats keep themselves lighted by flame.
All of it is backed by picture-perfect black levels, vivid contrast, and a full blown layer of dimensionality that makes the image pop. We’ve been here before and undoubtedly, we’ll be here again, but Kung Fu Panda 2 is animated perfection.
With plenty of fighting, chasing, and cannons to go around, there’s no loss of aural fidelity within this TrueHD 7.1 affair. The extra two channels simply bring more to the table. Kicks, punches, debris, fire, fireworks -whatever the need may be- it carries right over the head of the viewer to dives to the sides. Lighted cannonballs explode into a flurry of activity, spraying sparks in a discernible pattern within the sound field.
Of course, lit cannons means an explosive charge, one that nails the subwoofer with a hearty bolt of low-end fury. Highs are encapsulated in the proper directional, creating an effect that is seamless and worthy of multiple listening sessions.
Chase sequences aggressively pan to the directionals as need be, the center holding firm on dialogue delivery. Various carts shatter and travel around during a mid-film ruckus, a perfect example of how well the imaging is delivered here.
Leading the bonuses is a commentary from director Jennifer Yuh, producer Melissa Cobb, production designer Raymond Zibach, and story artist Rodolphe Guenoden. Some of the content is shared with a picture-in-picture Animator’s Corner. If that’s not enough to go along with the film, a trivia track is offered.
Kickin’ it With the Cast is a dull promo for the voice actors, with three deleted scenes following complete with intros from the director. Panda Stories is a PSA on real pandas, flowing into Animation Inspiration, an multi-part piece on a journey to China the animators took to nail the visual style. There’s a short side-adventure with Po and crew, an episode of the upcoming TV series, a couple of games, and a brief Mandarin lesson for the kids.