Kung Fu Panda 2 managed to capture a lot of the familiar themes from the first film while also becoming an entertaining extension of the first film. Shifu’s (Dustin Hoffman) mention of finding inner peace at the end of Kung Fu Panda plays a huge role in the sequel while also bringing important themes to the forefront. Just like the previous film, Po (Jack Black) has a lot of learning to do, but in learning from his friends and finding inner courage, he proves, once again, that he’s a worthy bearer of the Dragon Warrior title.
Sometime after the first film, Po and his friends have defeated many foes. Po has embraced his status as Dragon Warrior and the people of the Valley of Peace look up to him as a role model. While fighting bandits in a town near their own, Po suffers from a crippling flashback that renders him unfocused and unable to fight. He fights against these flashbacks even as he discovers he was adopted after being found in a radish crate as a baby. The culprit turns out to be Shen (Gary Oldman), a white peacock who’s quest for power has lead him to create a weapon using recently created gunpowder. A soothsayer reveals that “a warrior of black and white” will defeat Shen. As a result, Shen kills all the pandas he can find, save for Po. This is why he is having debilitating flashbacks about his parents. Despite this, Po finds inner peace and defeats Shen.
Kung Fu Panda 2 is definitely darker than the first installment in every sense of the word. Shen is far more sinister than Tai Lung was and Shen’s animation is stunning. Kyle Smith of The New York Post said: “it’s a bit hard to be terrified of a peacock.”
He’s right, but somehow, Shen as a villain just works. A lot of it has to do with Oldman who is always at his terrifyingly best no matter if he’s animated or in real life. His performances are always electric and this one is not an exception. Another reason Shen is such a good villain is the way the animators animated him. He kills his opponents and defeats them with razor-sharp feathers and movements that rival those of a dancer’s. His fighting style is different than those of Po and the Furious Five which makes him seem much more formidable.
Oldman and a murderous peacock aside, Po and his dealing with his past is the big, encompassing theme of Kung Fu Panda 2, and it’s where a lot of the lessons stem from this time around. I think that dealing with the past is a wonderful addition to make to a children’s movie. It teaches so much that kids, and even adults, can latch onto and run with if they so choose. I think also noting how the Furious Five treat Po is worth discussing too. They want to leave him behind. Granted this a children’s movie and Po still remains friends with them. That sequence is a great place to start a conversation about how to treat others. Can you tell I love kids movies that really go for it with great teaching lessons and themes? They’re the greatest.
While I think that Kung Fu Panda is still my favorite film of the franchise so far, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a very worthy predecessor in terms of animation, storytelling, and vocal performances.
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