Man...it was the second weekend in a row where I saw a newly released movie. In this case, it was Dreamworks' Kung Fu Panda 2. (Astute readers may remember that the weekend before was X-Men: First Class.) The circumstances that led to me watching Kung Fu Panda 2 is similar to what led to watching the X-Men movie -- call it "family obligation".
This past weekend was Father's Day and my plan was to cook dinner for the family before heading back to Washington D.C. However, my dad somehow conjured an idea he almost never has: proposing we go out to see a new movie. Last time we saw a movie together was back when National Treasure 2 came out (what, like 3 years ago?). As you may guessed, the proposed movie was Kung Fu Panda 2 and, given it was Father's Day, I did not protest. I did not even protest when the 3D showing was selected (since I would be footing the bill). But I am glad that, out of all the movies currently out, we picked this one to see. Kung Fu Panda 2 was (very unexpectedly) a terrific Father's Day movie.
Having never seen the entirety of the first Kung Fu Panda movie, I expected this one to fall short of the immense expectations of being the second of a Dreamworks franchise. All I know is that the first movie was very popular and a massive box-office hit. Overall, my impression of Dreamworks films is that they are a "poor man's" version of Pixar films (e.g. Finding Nemo vs Shark Tale, A Bug's Life vs Entz). Therefore I went into the theater with the bar set low for Kung Fu Panda 2 -- especially as we saw this movie in 3D.
But I was pleasantly surprised. For one, the length of the movie was short yet captivating throughout. The run time is an hour and a half, but it felt much longer. This speaks volumes to the quality of the animation and the story development of Kung Fu Panda 2 -- one of the worst experiences is having to sit through a 3 hour movie that feel longer (case in point: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). Although the visuals were good, the movie did not rely on its special effects to engage the audience. Instead (and rightfully so), it was the plot and the characters.
For those familiar with the franchise, Kung Fu Panda is the story about the rise of a panda bear named "Po" who becomes a martial arts master. Po is clumsy, often unintelligent, but possesses tremendous stamina, courage, and perseverance. The first movie revolved around the journey of Po from being a worker in his father's restaurant to becoming a "Dragon Warrior". In this sequel, we are introduced to Po's background and the other parts of the fictionalized country of China. The film directors were clearly betting on the awesomeness of Po's character to draw audiences -- a bet that seems to be paying off at the box office. The story for this movie centers around Po's origins and addresses the reason for why Po's father is a crane and not...another panda. There is another evil villain (spoiler: an evil peacock) but the story doesn't revolve around defeating this evil. Instead, the villain is used to explain Po's origins.
Overall, Kung Fu Panda 2 is an excellent family movie. It is funny, witty, and also inspiring. The inspiration part derives from the fact that a giant panda could overcome difficulties and rise to become a kung fu master. I thought the voice casting was also a highlight of the movie (and the franchise as a whole): Jack Black excels as the voice of Po, Dustin Hoffman as Shifu, Jackie Chan as the monkey, and Angelina Jolie as the tigress. I have a nagging feeling there will be another sequel coming up that, as Dreamworks' track record with Shrek suggests, will not be as good. But this one is worth watching!