Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda 2- A Charming Guilty Pleasure Children’s Film That Contains a Decent and Simple Moral Message

Despite the fact that DreamWorks Animation creates films around the idea of entertaining children rather than targeting the entire family there are the occasional movies that can be deemed decent or slightly entertaining. How to Train Your Dragon was one of these select features that had enough charm and connection (not to mention a captivating visual experience) to get you through the basic plot and lazily chosen archetypal characters. The first Kung Fu Panda dwells in the between realm that is definitely a children’s film that has an undeniable charm and silliness to put a smile on your face. The sequel, Kung Fu Panda 2 (no creative title like “Paws of Fury” or “Enter the Panda” to go along with that), is a successful continuation of the original in the idea that it keeps the same tone and silliness from the first while also being a simple moral tale for children. Most of that is linked to the simple yet ignored concept of the confrontation of evil that most children’s films have tried to grey out as of late (Megamind, Despicable Me). Of course, not everything is remarkably done. The opening of the film from the distant exposition through 2D Chinese animation to the first fight sequence seems quick, informal, and lazy as the characters voices even seem as though they’re not at all invested in this project except for the large paycheck. Luckily with Gary Oldman’s vocal performance as the evil and inventive Shen it generates life into the film that would have otherwise have fallen flat without him. But as children’s films go, or film’s that don’t try to lift the concepts, messages, or jokes to a respectable adult level, Kung Fu Panda 2 still has that charm the first one was able to deliver.

Throughout the second Kung Fu Panda there is a message relating to the idea of suffering and how sometimes dealing with those scars takes greater strength than resorting to power or conquest. These are the two paths that are embodied by the paths of Po (voiced by Jack Black) and Shen throughout the film. The plot is almost reminiscent of Moses in how Shen’s path of darkness will result in a defeat from a warrior of black & white so he sets out to change his fate by eliminating all of the Pandas. Po was then given away to be saved from the destruction and when he finds out about this early pain it is a matter of realizing that your past doesn’t define you, it is yourself that can make the person. It’s a blank slate moral and inspiring message for children and it’s conveyed in a fun and believable manner. The very fact that Shen is the antithesis of conquering his own pain and refusing to look inside for a change highlights that message to a great degree and without an evil antagonist it wouldn’t have worked. And evil he is, someone who doesn’t hesitate to kill his own men or city as long as it will be to his own benefit in the end (think Maleficent evil, but with more humorous scenes). But just because it has a message and an antagonist that kills without hesitation doesn’t mean the film isn’t fun. The story structure is familiar and the character’s arc is basic, but a majority of the jokes hit home and they have fun with certain scenarios, one noteworthy scene dealing with perspective has Po confronting Shen giving his inspirational speech but can’t be heard from far away. All in all once you get past the awkward beginning the film picks up speed and delivers an entertaining experience.

It seems unfair to point out DreamWorks flaws when compared to the standard Pixar has set for animated family pictures, but comparing the two shows the difference from classic Hollywood storytelling and modern Hollywood storytelling. The latter is based on exaggeration, familiar characters instead of complex characters, and a focus on pop-culture references instead of humor that involves us with the characters. Kung Fu Panda 2 falls along these lines being a sort of lazy homage to classic Kung Fu pictures while having the exaggerated humor for kids to eat up. It certainly contains a great deal of charm but sometimes it isn’t enough to reach the level of quality filmmaking that classic Hollywood storytelling was focused on. There’s a lot of fun to be had with the occasional DreamWorks animation production but fun without purpose can sometimes be fleeting and most films that capture our attention, fun or conceptual, will do so with intent. Supposing that expectations of Kung Fu Panda 2 would be mildly optimistic it certainly meets that standard with undeniable appeal and a simplistic atmosphere of fun.

Grades: B-

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