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Kung Fu Panda 2 / *** (PG)

Posted Sunday, June 5, 2011, at 3:55 PM

Po and the Furious Five are back for another animated adventure in "Kung Fu Panda 2".
DreamWorks Animation presents a film directed by Jennifer Yuh. Written by Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger. Running time: 90 min. Rated PG (for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence).

It is the nature of the sequel to give audiences more of what they loved before. Some sequels handle this by taking what was done before and making it bigger and more spectacular. Some just take the original and copy it over again. The later seems less impressive, but usually turns out better results. Neither is necessary. The CGI animated "Kung Fu Panda 2" falls in the latter category. While it isn't necessary, it is well done and entertaining.

When last we saw the fat panda and unlikely kung fu master Po (voiced by Jack Black, "Gulliver's Travels"), he had proven himself worthy of the Dragon Warrior title for which he was chosen. Now, we find that Po has been accepted amongst his kung fu piers as a master martial artist despite his unorthodox and often distracted form. Tigress (Angelina Jolie, "The Tourist"), who expected to gain the Dragon Warrior title in the first film, holds no grudges and considers Po her superior, although she can help him out of a bind when he gets into one.

Enter Shen, a peacock that wants to rule all of China and the world. Voiced to scene chewing perfection by Gary Oldman ("Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"), we learn through traditional animation flashbacks that Soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh, "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor"), a goat seer, has prophesized that a creature of black and white will eventually defeat him. To prevent this prophecy from coming true, Shen has all the Pandas killed. Don't these animals watch movies? You can't get around a prophecy that way.

We know that Po lives, and now we discover just why his father is a duck. This is where the story of "Kung Fu Panda 2" really starts to hook me. Po was abandoned and adopted by the duck, Mr. Ping (James Hong, "Balls of Fury"). Any Chinese adoption story is close to my heart. However, for Po this leaves some questions in his heart, which makes it difficult for him to find the inner peace necessary to be the best Dragon Warrior he can be.

First time feature director Jennifer Yuh doesn't stray from the designs of the original. She came up through Hollywood animation as a storyboard artist and that shows in her traditionally animated flashback segments, which contain the most spectacular animation in the movie. Even in the CGI portions, which make up most of the movie's action, the artistic design retains the same beautiful far eastern influence as the first film.

In the typical tradition of Chinese martial arts films, "Kung Fu Panda 2" does a good job incorporating the environment and settings into its action sequences. There's an impressive chase through the streets that incorporates a rickshaw as a weapon. A street dragon puppet gets put to creative use. There is also a nice water battle sequence and the obligatory sparks and factory sequence.

"Kung Fu Panda 2" certainly won't change any minds that may have not enjoyed the first film, but it's a capable sequel that retains the same skilled level of animation filmmaking as the first film. It won't disappoint those looking for more of the same from the world of Po and his cohorts, and for those of you who like a good adoption story thrown into your family entertainment, well that can be considered a bonus.

"Kung Fu Panda 2" is currently playing in 2D at Marshall Cinema and in 3D at Galaxy Cinema in Sedalia.

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Andrew is a professionally trained actor and stage director. He was a reporter for the daily newspaper The Marshall Democrat News. He has been critiquing film since Mr. Lucas released the first of his "Star Wars" prequels in 1999. His reviews can also be seen at his blog site.
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