Everybody is predicting this to be the year Pixar ends its four-year Academy Award streak. The question is, will Kung Fu Panda 2 (KFP 2) be the one to nudge it off the pedestal? Well. Since Cars 2 hasn’t released yet, I’d say that’s a terribly unfair question. But I can tell you this much: KFP 2 is a visually stunning film, that will have you in splits (you will leave the cinema hall loudly proclaiming, “Victory is ours! Ka-kaa! Ka-kaaa!” I guarantee this). That is, of course, assuming you aren’t one of those snobs who think they’re too good for DreamWorks.
Po the panda is back again as the Dragon Warrior! He is shocked and surprised to discover that his father, the goose is not his biological parent and sets out on a journey to discover his origins (yes obviously, by the end of the movie he realizes that his noodle-making dad is the only family he needs). At the same time, an evil peacock Shen invents the gun and with it, threatens the old order of kung fu. Po and the Furious Five must destroy the gun and save China (and kung fu).
Just a rehash of the first film’s plot? Sort of. Instead of Tai Lung, we got Shen; instead of the dragon scroll, we got cannons; and instead of a villain who was not content with himself, we got a villain who would not make peace with his inner demons. Even so, I found the sequel far more satiating that its predecessor. Despite the similarities, this was a very successful sequel because, even though they went with a tried and tested formula, they did it with more flair and confidence. Jack Black has become comfortable in his role, the jokes and dialogue were extremely funny, the visual effects roundly trumps the old and the storyline was far darker in parts. Po’s emotional recollection of his childhood in KFP 2 is so well portrayed that it simply cannot be compared to the first film. KFP 2 felt grander and more memorable of the two. I’d even go so far as to say, KFP 2 is ‘The Lord of the Rings’ to KFP 1‘s ‘The Hobbit’.
I cannot stress enough on what a heartbreakingly b e a u t i f u l film this was. With some three or four different styles of animation, ranging from shadow puppetry to computer animation used for different story arcs, one could even enjoy the film with the sound on mute. Be it a peacock tail, drawn using a simple palette of white and red (which, somehow felt more suitable than the traditional blues and greens) or a scared panda running through a forest– where even trees seemed to exude animosity, every single frame of the film is like a painting.
But what I absolutely loved about the film was that it never became too sententious. Funny movies have this terrible habit of become teary and emotional (ugh) in the second half. A lot of DreamWorks films too suffer from this syndrome,where they have a hard time toeing the line between irreverence and preachiness. KFP 2 on the other hand, seamlessly weaves the emotional element into its essentially comedic plot. Po always remains Po. He doesn’t become Batman overnight, after crying about his mom for 30 seconds and making an overwrought speech about family, yada yada. He remains an obese, bumbling panda who constantly surprises himself on the few occasions when he doesn’t trip over his own feet. He finds the strength to face the demons from his past and makes peace with himself. And then immediately sets his hand on fire.
I hate that non-Pixar and non-Studio Ghibli animated films are constantly dissed as either “an animated movie for adults, with no appeal for children” or as “too puerile– animated movies aren’t just for children, you know”, and I don’t doubt that one or the other will be assigned to this movie as well. As if an animated movie is worthy of our attention only if it appeals to every single person on the planet. This is exactly why Danish and I feel our campaign against evil movie critics is a worthy cause (cash contributions welcome). Shocker of shockers, sometimes films are made specifically to appeal to a certain demographic. For example, romantic comedies where Hugh Grant plays a shallow British man who falls in love and then wants to be a not-shallow man are made for the smart, sexy, female lawyer demographic. Should universal appeal or the lack thereof be a criterion for judging the quality of a film? All I can say is that, one smart, sexy, female lawyer and the sticky-fingered, popcorn-spilling, seat-kicking kid behind her thoroughly enjoyed this film.
Now if only they hadn’t put in one of those greedy, irritating, cliff-hanger endings in preparation for a potential sequel.