Kung Fu Panda 2

“You guys see that? It’s called being awesome.”

The big fat panda is at it again. This time, Po and the Furious Five must stop Shen, a commanding and revengeful peacock, from developing a weapon that can defeat even kung fu masters. But the battle gets personal when Po realizes Shen was there the night Po’s parents abandoned him as a baby. Po sets out to save the art of kung fu – and conquer his fears about his past.

When I heard Dreamworks had released a sequel to Kung Fu Panda – aptly named Kung Fu Panda 2 – I was optimistic. I enjoyed the first movie because of its clean content, but the story was shallow. I was hopeful that the sequel would have a deeper story while maintaining the clean bill of health.

Amazingly, that’s what I got. Kung Fu Panda 2 is a riot. I laughed for the first 2/3rds and cried for the last 1/3rd, all the while thoroughly enjoying the wild action sequences. The film won my heart and instantly found a place on my list of favorite movies. Here’s why.

The Good

The movie employs the overused premise of a child discovering they are adopted and setting out to find the truth about their past. I generally dislike such stories because of the bad light they cast on the adoptive parents. However, I felt this film handled it tactfully and wholesomely. Po comes to realize the beauty of adoption and the love he has for his adoptive father. His adoptive father is caring and supportive, and the two’s final scene is heartwarming.

Like its predecessor, this film has very low content. There is only a smattering of crude humor; there is no gritty language, immodesty, or romance. There is a lot of exaggerated action-violence, but it is not graphic. Even the bad guys show some restraint; when Shen orders his captain to shoot, the toughened wolf refuses because his own men are in the line of fire.

As an added treat, Kung Fu Panda 2 far surpasses the first film for artistic competence. The red-gold color scheme is rich, the Asian setting is vibrant, and the character design adds depth to the story by giving each character a strong visual presence. Of particular interest is the use of “cut paper” animation, a simplified style reminiscent of Asian art, that is mixed with the standard 3D modeling. To top it off, an evocative score brings out the emotion of the story.

The Bad

Like the original, Kung Fu Panda 2 features Asian-esque mysticism. The primary focus in this film is on “inner peace.” Kung fu master Shifu tells Po that once he achieves inner peace, he will be able to harness the energy of the universe. A meditative ritual accompanies this teaching. Po gains inner peace by [spoiler!] coming to terms with his past, and he is then able to use the meditative move to defeat Shen’s army.

In addition, there is some talk of destiny, although it is not as heavy as in the first film. A soothsayer is consulted a few times. Also, the yin-yang symbol appears fairly frequently. Thankfully, there is none of the accompanying theology; good defeats evil, rather than coming into “balance” with it.

While it is minor and perhaps unintentional, the film could be seen as having a message against the use of firearms. Shen takes his parents’ discovery of fireworks and uses the firepower to design weapons for evil purposes. Shifu tells Po that the weapons must be stopped or they will destroy the art of kung fu. While Shen’s use of the weaponry is despicable, it is worth noting that firearms are not necessarily inherently evil themselves. Whether such weaponry should have ever been developed is a complicated subject that might make an interesting discussion point after watching the movie.

In Conclusion

Kung Fu Panda 2 isn’t perfect. The mysticism is something that needs to be approached with discernment. But, thankfully, that’s about the only element of this film I need to worry about. The rest of the journey is wild, vibrant, and clean; it’s just as fun as the first while being a great deal more emotionally engaging. Kung Fu Panda 2 found a place on my list of favorite movies, and if Dreamworks’ continues this trend, it’s likely their future films will also find a home on my shelf. I can’t wait to find out.

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