So we are a bit late with this review. I had a few things to do last week and couldn't make it to the theater for the opening of Kung Fu Panda 2.
Wait, wait, wait. I can see many of you with the look of shock on your faces. Bernie had something else to do? You know me of course as a movie critic, and most of you can probably only imagine me sitting in a movie theater with my laptop. Thinking of me "having a few things to do" is probably as surreal as the idea of seeing your first grade teacher outside of school. I remember encountering Mr. Rubin on the street. He drove up in his Volkswagen Beetle, stopped, rolled down the window and asked how I was. I was flabbergasted. To that point, teachers had been fixtures in the school building, and I was no less surprised by Mr. Rubin than I would have been if the porcelain drinking fountain from the hallway outside the principal's office showed up at my door. So I can understand if you are naturally incredulous about me being busy.
However, I do indeed have a life outside the movie theater, and I have proof. I have included a recent photo of myself (see right) engaged in a non-movie viewing activity. I was engaged in some such activity last Friday when Kung Fu Panda 2 opened. And to be honest, I was not too terribly upset with having to miss this debut. I was not particularly impressed with the original. It was cute, but that was about it -- okay, but unremarkable. I was not expecting much from a sequel. As it happened, however, the family wanted something to do on Monday, and I tagged along for the ride when the granddaughter suggested seeing the new Panda movie.
I must now admit to you that I was no more than five minutes into this movie when I knew that I was entirely wrong, and that this was the real deal. Po, the young panda who in the first movie found out that he was a kung fu master, now protects his homeland from all foes. The newest threat, an evil peacock named Lord Shen who is bent on taking over all of China, carries with him a secret about Po's past and a weapon that seems capable of defeating kung fu itself.
Although Po is a supernaturally endowed kung fu master, he is still a bumbling, adolescent who succeeds by chance as much as by design. Po would have fit well into the Jay Ward stable of cartoon heroes along side Bullwinkle, Super Chicken and George of the Jungle (characters whom I dearly loved).
This movie did not seem like a sequel. The story was satisfying, and while not great literature, had enough twists and turns to make it highly entertaining. There was plenty of good humor, both in the dialog and the slapstick. There is a great scene involving a Chinese Dragon costume that is simply hilarious and had the audience roaring with laughter. The animation was top notch, on the level of being nearly distracting in appearance -- I found myself getting lost in the intricacies of Po's fur.
But the real star of this movie was the art. This is a stunningly beautiful picture where every scene could be framed for its artistic merit. From breathtaking vistas to the intricate finery of peacock feathers, the colors and the rendering were rich and evocative. You didn't have to try to immerse yourself in the film, it washed over you in wave after wave of stunning imagery.
To this point in time, I have considered Pixar's Wall-E to be the finest animated movie of all time. Well, while I am reluctant to remove its crown just yet, I will say that although Kung Fu Panda 2 is a sequel, it is far superior to the original, and it is one of the two finest animated movies of all time.
If you get the chance, go see this movie.
Like Bernie, I was occupied elsewhere when Kung Fu Panda II opened in our theater. I might have been trimming my toenails, or walking the dog. After having seen Kung Fu Panda (on DVD, I don't see anything with Jack Black in a lead role at the movies if I can help it) I was not about to spend an hour and a half wishing I was home in my comfy chair with a dish of noshes at my left hand and my faithful dog Howie at my right.
When Bernie came back from the movie (having left me at home with the noshes to my left and Howie to my right) his first words were, "You have to go with me to see this movie tomorrow."
Observing his uncharacteristically wide blue eyes and dazed expression, I agreed. Normally I'm the animated-film freak, not him. What could have stunned him so much about a sequel to a cartoon that had seemed geared to be an infomercial about video games and merchandise?
I went. I saw. I was knocked out by the attention to detail -- and to artistry. This is not just an animated flick, this is a fantastic slice of what CGI can be elevated to -- real art. Art that makes you hunger to run your eyes over it again and again, art that calls to something in your heart. My jaw sagged again and again at how real -- and yet surreal -- the settings were.
And though the theme was a trifle dark, with the discovery of ballistic weapons to be used against flesh and skill, the execution was incredibly funny. I have never heard a movie audience laugh so hard and so often that it sounded like a comedy laugh-track. It wasn't all fat-boy jokes and digestive sounds (though those were there, as one would expect with Jack Black anywhere in the vicinity) -- there were classic slapstick and snide modern humor as well.
I liked that Po the Panda Dragon Warrior was not a complete idiot through most of this film. He had his limitations and weaknesses, but he was a hero, doing his best to be a hero, and doing dang well, thank you. In fact I even forgot his voice was Jack Black!
Most of all, I admired the animation that often made use of each animal's way of moving. The transition from anthropomorphization to natural movement was sweetly done, drawing no gut-wrenching, teeth-gnashing, forehead-smacking reactions from me.
Some movies fill your heart; some make you want to dance with them; some break your heart, and some can leave you crippled for days. This one, Kung Fu Panda 2, is like a perfect trip to your favorite amusement park for a grand holiday.