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Kung Fu Panda 2(2011)
Po is now living his dream as The Dragon Warrior, protecting the Valley of Peace alongside his friends and fellow kung fu masters, The Furious Five – Tigress, Crane, Mantis, Viper and Monkey. But Po’s new life of awesomeness is threatened by the emergence of a formidable villain, who plans to use a secret, unstoppable weapon to conquer China and destroy kung fu. It is up to Po and The Furious Five to journey across China to face this threat and vanquish it. But how can Po stop a weapon that can stop kung fu? He must look to his past and uncover the secrets of his mysterious origins; only then will he be able to unlock the strength he needs to succeed.
For more about Kung Fu Panda 2 and the Kung Fu Panda 2 Blu-ray release, see Kung Fu Panda 2 Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on December 7, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jack Black, Seth Rogen, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Jean-Claude Van Damme
Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
» See full cast & crew
Kung Fu Panda 2 Blu-ray Review
Pretty much the perfect Blu-ray release.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, December 7, 2011
The only thing that matters is what you choose to be now.
What a fun, fun ride. Kung Fu Panda 2 is every bit as good as, and perhaps better than, the original Kung Fu Panda. It sets the stage for what promises to be a gripping and emotional third entry, a movie that can't come fast enough and that's teased by a brilliant finale in Kung Fu Panda 2, a finale that underscores and promises to reshape all of that film's character growth and dynamics. But enough with the looks back into the past and towards the future. The succinctly-titled Kung Fu Panda 2 continues the story of Po, the cuddly, overweight Panda serving as the protective Dragon Warrior who's aided by his close friends and allies, the Furious Five. Despite outward appearances and, perhaps, the resultant preconceived notions, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a movie that's really about deep character development that's nicely complimented, though not defined, by the movie's infectious humor and robust action. The movie's superficialities are a lot of fun, but at this point, and with the promise of even more compelling character growth and dramatic challenges to come considering the revelation in the film's ending seconds, it wouldn't be a stretch to call Po one of the most well-rounded animated characters the screen has ever seen, and that's not a reference solely to his girth. For a character who's outwardly an overweight Kung Fu fighter with an endless appetite, mistimed heroic banter, and crazy antics, it's truly amazing how well Po has inwardly been molded into a lovable character with a complex past, real emotions, and a heart that matches in size his waistline.
The Peacocks once ruled over Gongmen, a prosperous city brought to notoriety for its invention of fireworks. But the Peacocks' son, Shen (voiced by Gary Oldman), saw in the fireworks a potential for great power that he chose to harness at any cost. Desperate to stop their son from ascending to rulership with an iron fist, Shen's parents sought out a seer who foretold that Shen would ultimately be defeated by a black-and-white hero. Shen, assuming his conqueror would come in the shape of a panda, ordered the species destroyed, but he found himself banished for his actions. Now, years later and fulfilling his promise of revenge, he's harnessed the power of the firework and created a device capable of delivering destructive projectiles at great speed. It's a weapon powerful enough to defeat even the might of kung fu itself. When word of this reaches Master Shifu (voiced by Dustin Hoffman), he has no choice but to seek the weapon's destruction. He turns to the Dragon Warrior, the overweight Panda Po (voiced by Jack Black), to undertake the mission, but not before sharing with Po the secret to personal and kung fu success: the realization of inner peace. As Po and the members of the Furious Five -- Tigress (voiced Angelina Jolie), Mantis (voiced by Seth Rogen), Viper (voiced by Lucy Liu), Monkey (voiced by Jackie Chan), and Crane (voiced by David Cross) -- set out to defeat Shen and his new weapon, Po begins to see visions from his past, a past he must remember, understand, and accept if he is to find the inner peace he needs to defeat Shen and preserve the mighty power of kung fu.
Kung Fu Panda 2 epitomizes everything that can be great about modern animated fare. Most obviously, the movie looks spectacular. It seems with every new digital film -- whether Wall•E, Shrek Forever After, How to Train Your Dragon or now Kung Fu Panda 2 -- the animation becomes exponentially greater, the worlds more fully realized, the fine details more capably displayed, and most important, the characters better developed from a scripted perspective. Indeed, the animation is but one side of the coin when it comes to crafting a top-tier animated feature, and what all of the aforementioned films share in common, aside from their superior digital renderings, are first-class stories, wonderfully-developed characters, and impeccable core values that make the movies not only visual delights, but also purposeful, memorable fare that work in conjunction with, not because of, "eye candy" visuals. Kung Fu Panda 2 works so well in this regard because it finds that magical sweet spot where it plays with a nonstop barrage of catchy and plot-based humor, incredible action, and meaningful character development. It's the former two that get all the play, earn all the laughs, and generate the most "oohs" and "ahs" from the audience, but it's the latter that solidifies the film as something that's a cut above even the finer animated pictures -- and most general pictures at that -- thanks to simple but honest and heartfelt drama that truly gives form to a character that could have easily been nothing but a front for humor and unconventional action but who has been shaped into a character worth caring for, molding a budding franchise from clever gimmick to, potentially, the best-scripted and most balanced animated series to date. After all, "anything is possible when you have inner peace," and it's very clear that by the end of Kung Fu Panda 2, the story and the filmmakers alike have found that nirvana that promises to take the series to even greater heights.
Kung Fu Panda 2 is able to work in all of this character development because it's an origins story at its core. Rather than simply rehash the first film with a different villain and some fresh jokes, the writing team has gone to great lengths to create a centerpiece character that's not simply a walking punchline but instead a full-blown individual with a fascinating -- and somewhat Biblically-inspired -- arc and a wonderful yet sure-to-be challenging future ahead of him. That's more than may be said of most off-the-shelf sort of stock animated characters; most of these movies at least give a pulse and a purpose to their characters, but Kung Fu Panda 2 has upped the ante by shaping a character audiences will truly care for not because he's cute, but because he's about as real as an animated character may be. But the lessons learned -- the search for inner peace, a quest to discover his past -- and his greater understanding of reality gained are not the only things that make Po such a fine and dynamic character. Those are certainly now at his core, but so too is the idea that he's a character built on heart and belief in both himself and a greater good towards which he strives. He certainly doesn't have the same physical skill set as his allies, but what he lacks in fitness, physical discipline, and the like, he more than makes up for in raw determination, integrity, honesty, and heart. That doesn't mean he's not a warrior capable of some impressive physical feats, but Po is all about making the best of what he has and who he is. Po is, basically, the hero that lives inside of everyone. He's the animated panda embodiment of the everyman, the person who might not look a part on the outside, but who, through sheer will, dedication, and belief, can accomplish anything, even becoming a Kung Fu legend despite an oversized belly, poor physical stamina, and an insatiable appetite for dumplings.
Of course, Kung Fu Panda 2 is still a blast of a movie, even without considering the direction it takes its lead character. Like Po never met a dumpling he didn't like, the movie never plays a joke that doesn't work. The humor is uproariously funny, much of it a product of a play on general action movie cliché where Po attempts to play the part of the hero who will save the day but whose various proclamations and actions to that affect don't always work as he had planned. The action is as satisfying as the humor, and it's the sort that's exciting but not frightening, appropriate for all ages and an important piece of the movie, though certainly not its centerpiece. The plot is adequate; it's mostly a frame in which the character arc may develop more than it is some grand story that yields any true significance. From a basic plot aspect, there are no real surprises. Of course Po and friends will win the day, but as always it's the journey that matters in a movie like this, and here, that journey is about wonderful animation, good action, great humor, and the character dynamics that truly give shape to the movie. The voice acting continues to be an asset, too. Jack Black is fantastic as Po; he captures the character nuances through his understanding of who and what Po is, and his ability to voice even the most serious of scenes with an underlying or anticipatory sense of humor -- not to mention his flawless execution of raw jokes -- is the character's best superficial asset. Series newcomer Gary Oldman does, what else, the voice of the villain. His portrayal of Shen is devious but necessarily light. He paints Shen as an evil character, but not a frightening character, which is exactly what a movie of this sort needs. The remainder of the cast works well, but Black definitely and rightly overshadows his peers.
Kung Fu Panda 2 Blu-ray, Video Quality
DreamWorks Animation has this Blu-ray thing down to a science. Kung Fu Panda 2 is the latest dazzler of a 1080p transfer from the studio that's released flawless eye candy like How to Train Your Dragon and Shrek Forever After, two of the absolute nicest-looking Blu-rays on the marketplace. Like those transfers, this one's pretty much perfect. Fine detailing is so impressive that every little painstaking nuance in the digital environments are crisply visible and flawlessly defined. Whether the basics like individual furs on Po's body or the feathery textures of Shen's tail or the slightest details on vegetation, rock surfaces, and the wooden accents inside Po's father's kitchen, the transfer's every last square inch dazzles with unbeatable clarity and definition so precise that the image may as well be straight off the DreamWorks Animation disk drive. Colors, likewise, are superb. Balance is exceptional, and everything takes on a natural shading, whether earthen stones and terrain, the multicolored Furious Five, bright pots and decorations at the restaurant, and even the more sinister and fiery locales around which Shen sometimes operates. Black levels are flawless, too, appearing just the right shade of dark so as not to look washed out or become indistinguishable from other dark surfaces, like Po's fury black patches. There's a scant trace of banding in one or two shots, but it's hard to fault the transfer when it's both extremely rare and barely visible, not to mention dwarfed by the transfer's dominant, positive features. The 2D presentation also boasts good natural depth. Clarity is amazing, and the image is consistently razor sharp. This one's a real winner, no surprise given DreamWorks' track record of animated Blu-ray excellence.
Kung Fu Panda 2 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Like its video counterpart, there's pretty much no better word to describe Kung Fu Panda 2's Dolby TrueHD 7.1 lossless soundtrack than "perfect." This one's fairly simple to break down, too. The track is dynamic and exacting. It's a case of "a place for everything and everything in its place." The track delivers any number of audible elements, each perfectly spaced and natural in placement and direction. The track comes alive with various sound effects -- everything from creaky wooden planks and dripping water beads to the most ambitious and potent action elements -- all presented in perfect balance and flawless harmony. Each sound is painstakingly well-defined and plays with no audible hitches or even the slightest drop in clarity. The surround speakers are in full swing to compliment the film, whether in an ambient supportive role or as full-fledged contributing members to the score and action. Music is crisp and realistically spacious and clear. Separation is exceptional, and the surrounds do a fine job of supporting it. Bass is incredible, tight and focused and never sloppy or loud just to be loud. Whether in support of music or action, the low end delivers a steady, energized presence that gives body and a filling, finishing touch to every sonic element. Rounded into form by clear, accurate, and center-focused dialogue that's never lost underneath the music or effects, Kung Fu Panda 2's lossless soundtrack is hard act to beat.
Kung Fu Panda 2 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Kung Fu Panda 2 features plenty of extras, including a new short film, an episode of the Legends of Awesomeness TV program, a picture-in-picture feature, an audio commentary, and a few featurettes. Animation Inspiration, The Animators' Corner, and Trivia Track are exclusive to the Blu-ray release.
Kung Fu Panda 2 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Kung Fu Panda 2 is a runaway success that's just as entertaining as the original but, more importantly, far more adept at character development. The film shies away, just a bit, from the onslaught of humor of the first movie in favor of a more dramatic and personal story that gives shape to Po on the inside, where the first film was more concerned with his outward shape. Kung Fu Panda 2 is still infectiously funny and just about every single joke is a hit, but the film is best in those character-driven moments that set up a fascinating dynamic that promises to make a future installment in the series a picture with some serious drama to work through, though no doubt, like this movie, supplemented by pitch-perfect humor and dazzling action. DreamWorks' Blu-ray release of Kung Fu Panda 2 features breathtaking video and audio presentations, and this package is rounded into form by a host of good supplemental content. Kung Fu Panda 2 earns my highest recommendation.
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