Kung Fu Panda 2 review

Back in 2008, Dreamworks' Kung Fu Panda hit the box office with a well-aimed belly-blow.

A high-concept blend of chop-socky and anthropomorphised CG animals, the film followed Po (voiced by Jack Black) - an oafish panda on a hero's journey to prove himself a master of martial arts.

Surprising even its own studio, Panda came out of nowhere to reap $631m at the worldwide box-office - outstripping the likes of Ice Age and Madagascar , and even Pixar faves like Monsters, Inc. and WALL*E . (Winning over the Chinese with its reverent take on their heritage probably didn't hurt.)

Needless to say, a sequel was almost inevitable.

And so we have the originally titled Kung Fu Panda 2 , helmed by first-time feature director Jennifer Yuh (the lady responsible for the stunning, hand-drawn introduction to the first movie). In 3D. But wait, come back - this is far from the cynical cash-in you might expect.

Following the template of all good sequels, Panda 2 retains the charm of the original while offering a more complex story on a much grander scale.

There are two plot strands here: the revelation of Po's adoption ("Your dad's a goose and you're surprised you're adopted?" deadpans Angelina Jolie's Tigress) and the more epic tale of evil warlord Lord Shen (a brilliantly OTT Gary Oldman, clearly having fun in the recording booth).

He's a blade-throwing peacock, trying to take over China with industrious methods and a very big gun: the 'Kaboom Of Doom' of the film's working title.

Imagine The Last Samurai with a menagerie of high-kicking critters instead of Ken Watanabe's katana-wielding warriors. We're not kidding - the story takes in vengeful grudge matches and even genocide as Po learns the sinister truths of his past...

But while there are some much darker shades to this sequel, there are also plenty of laughs to be had. The scene where Po attempts to find inner peace, only to be bested by some rogue rainwater, is a hilarious piece of animated improv that's up there with the best of Black's physical comedy.

In fact, the eclectic voices are all a perfect fit for their animal counterparts - from returning characters like Dustin Hoffman's Shifu and Jackie Chan's Monkey, to newbies like Michelle Yeoh's goat-like Soothsayer and, in a piece of casting genius, Jean-Claude Van Damme's Master Croc.

Add to that some inspired fight choreography, pixel-perfect animation (every strand of Po's fur is painstakingly rendered) and not-just-there-for-the-sake-of-it 3D, and this is quite possibly the best 'toon since Toy Story 3 - though it's nowhere near as nuanced or poignant as Pixar's Oscar-winning masterpiece.

Some of the action is a little repetitive, for a start, while any members of the Furious Five who aren't voiced by Black or Jolie are somewhat neglected.

Still, this is a chop above the competition - let's hope the inevitable threequel is more Toy Story and less Shrek The Third ...

Bigger and better than the original, Panda 2 skilfully avoids the curse of the sequel with wit, flair and a 3D paw to the face. Hii-yah!


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