The roly-poly Po is back in "Kung Fu Panda 2," with high energy, some lovely visuals and peppy, playful voice work, as always, from star Jack Black.
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But the freshness and novelty that made the original film such a kick back in 2008 has been, well, kicked to bits. And the storyline of this sequel feels overstuffed with plotlines and characters, none of which gets its due individually. Parents also should be aware of some violent, frightening imagery that may be too much for the littlest kids (we're talking around age 4).Video: Jack Black ‘bears’ all about ‘Panda’ role (on this page)
Everyone else, though, will probably delight in the animated spectacle from director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, which is bright and tactile, bold and subtle. The 3-D — you didn't think it wouldn't be in 3-D, now did you? — is generally unobtrusive but it doesn't really add anything, either. The most beautiful parts actually come from the other kinds of visual styles that are worked in, including a delicate segment that features paper-style animation.
"Delicate" probably isn't the first word that comes to mind when pondering the portly Po, who's gone from the underdog dreaming of kung-fu greatness all day at his dad's restaurant to the Dragon Warrior himself. He must protect the Valley of Peace with the help of The Furious Five, the various animal species who fight alongside him and happen to come with celebrity voices.Video: Did Jolie's kids like 'Kung Fu Panda 2'? (on this page)
One day, Po begins having flashbacks to long-suppressed childhood memories, and he begins to wonder who his biological parents might have been. As lug-headed as Po can be, even he can figure out that Mr. Ping (lovingly voiced by James Hong), the duck who runs the village noodle shop in the film's version of ancient China, probably didn't provide him with any DNA.
And so Po goes on a quest — as so many kung-fu warriors must — in search of his past. At the same time, a megalomaniacal peacock named Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) is hell-bent on dominating the country with some serious firepower. These two story lines run parallel to each other and eventually collide but never truly gel. It's an admirable attempt to develop the character beyond the usual animated kids' movie hero, but it also results in a crammed narrative that'll make you wish they'd stuck with one story or the other.Video: Jack Black on ad-libbing in 'Kung-Fu Panda' (on this page)
In every way, it feels like there's too much going on — and that includes having too many characters. This is especially true when it comes to Po's posse, The Furious Five. Except for Angelina Jolie as the fierce Tigress, the animals who comprise Po's team — Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross) — do plenty of fighting but only get a couple of lines here and there, and they're not fleshed out terribly well.
Dustin Hoffman returns in a reduced role as Po's diminutive mentor, Master Shifu (and there's not nearly enough of him), with Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Haysbert and Michelle Yeoh among the other actors joining the supporting cast.Slideshow: A mom's look at recent kid flicks (on this page)
The way to true inner peace comes from knowing that more doesn't necessarily equal better.
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