Kung Fu Panda 2 (UK - DVD R2)
Marcus watches as Dreamworks skadoosh this sequel out the park...
With Po (Jack Black) now part of the Furious Five and taking up his mantle as the Dragon Warrior, times have never been so good for Kung Fu. That is until Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) creates a weapon that could bring China to its knees and also destroy Kung Fu. Rushing to save the day, Po and The Furious Five attempt to defeat Lord Shen but with Po discovering elements of where he came from along the way, there may be more at stake on this mission than he first though.
This is a Dreamworks sequel and after the nosedive the Shrek franchise took after the all but perfect first Shrek I wasn't holding out much hope for this one. Also add to that Dreamworks hit and miss catalogue of projects that mostly fall into the 'meh' arena and the chances of Kung Fu Panda 2 living up to the utterly fantastic original were slim. Well guess what... they only bloody pulled it off didn't they!
Thankfully Dreamworks knew when to leave the good stuff alone with this sequel. Po is still full of infectious joy in everything he does. He loves the Furious Five and loves being a part of the team. Even more so he loves Kung Fu and my god is this movie full of everything there is to love about Kung Fu. All the fights here are kinetic and fun and once again Kung Fu Panda does action like the best of the actioners out there. This sequel ups the game quite substantially with the temple collapse scene, the classic Jackie Chan style chase through the city and some of the finest moments of 'cool' I've seen in fight scenes in quite some time and even better still most of the better moments are quite subtle (like the 'Hadouken' move from Tigress) as opposed to rammed down your throat. Always the best kind of cool in my book.
On top of all that KFP2 has heart. The slow drip feeding of Po's past (in some beautiful 2D animation) has just the right emotional punch it needs and the scenes with his Goose Father (who isn't really his Dad - who knew?) is utterly heartfelt even with his Dad's constant referrals to 'Noodles'. All this stuff is handled with a sensibility that lets our attachment to Po breathe and none of it is brushed aside for the sake the story's thrills, instead it all gets wrapped up in the story and Po carries it with him in his quest for inner peace. There's also quite a nice 'disturbance in the force' moment with Master Shifu where for a moment we believe Po might actually be dead - Gulp!
Beyond Po, who I adore despite his clumsiness for giggles, the rest of the characters here rock. The first Panda movie worked because the villain was a badass, this sequel works because the villain is equally as bad but on a different level. Gary Oldman's Shen is just plain nasty and hearing Oldman deliver such a good evil performance is great stuff. Also I can't get enough of Tigress. Angie's kick ass Tiger, absolutely kicks ass here and the fight scene that turns into a hug with Po hit exactly the right spot these characters deserved.
Kung Fu Panda 2 is a sequel that sits proudly next to the original adventure. Its pretty much got everything you want from an action adventure movie and then some and on top of that the climax is a pay off the movie really deserved. The inner peace stuff comes to a conclusion that is chock full of awesome, the odds are taken up to an exciting peak and then there's the cliffhanger at the end... I won't spoil it but I thought it was dead cool. This sequel totally delivers. More Panda please.
I'm going to front load this section with a bold statement. Even though this is just a DVD and I'm sure the Blu-ray will confirm my thoughts, I think Kung Fu Panda 2 could very well be the best looking computer animated movie to date. It's an absolutely beautiful movie to look at, with it's highly detailed characters and beautiful backgrounds but it's the subtle ways that really make this movie excel. Panda's fur for a start. It's mesmerising to look at in places, same goes for Tigress. Also when Po gets wet he feels about a ton heavier which was very impressive. Textures and detail on everything look astonishing, even with the limitations of standard definition and the lighting in this movie is astonishing really. The fireworks, bombs and explosions are dazzling and some of the uses of sunbeams add a warm feeling to scenes in very clever ways.
Of course this being DVD, I'm only getting half the story but everything looks great. Even the darker scenes hold it together and are still full of fine detail. The only issues being a noticeable softness to everything and a weird effect with some of the lighting around Po's edges that can make him look super imposed into scenes from time to time.
Oh also, look out for the cuts between the 2D art and the computer generated art, especially when Po returns to his family's village. When he hops back from the 2D art, the CG stuff looks almost utterly photo realistic for a few brief moments before you remember Po is a cartoon character and not a real panda. It really shows off the fine detail in this CG work. This DVD looked great but with the DVD getting this sort of response praise from me means the Blu-ray must be a much more thrilling experience (why did I let the kids put this one on their Christmas list - I want it now).
From very early on this Dolby Digital 5.1 track is very impressive. It's a full sounding track crammed with sweeping scores and subtle touches, little bits of ambience building the believability of the scenes, strong dialogue and a sense something extra is layered within the mix to raise it above being simple.
Bass gets its time to shine with the boom of cannons or the bassy thumps within the fight scenes (or Panda falling over). The dialogue is crisp and clear and the bigger battle scenes layered with every element, whether it be crowds, punching, explosions or rockets, it's all showing off and it makes KFP2 feel like a full on cinematic adventure.
Extras (or 'More Awesomeness' as the menu says)
The audio commentary with director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, producer Melissa Cobb, production designer Raymond Zibach and supervising animator, Kung Fu choreographer and story artist Randolphe Guenoden is upbeat and fun but never stays on the specific scene we're seeing for too long. The chats get quite technical from time to time but still come with plenty of behind the scenes details making for an easy listen.
'Kickin it With the Cast' (12:12) lets us see the all star cast at work and get their thoughts and feelings on their characters and the sequel. We get three animated storyboard style deleted scenes with intros from director Jennifer Yuh Nelson. Lastly we get trailers for most of the other Dreamworks movies as well as Shrek The Musical and the Kung Fu Panda 2 game.
I flat out loved Kung Fu Panda 2 both on a technical level and the more important pure cinematic delight level. These movies are a joy to watch with my family as it's good to see the kids get excited about martial arts done this well and the fine combination of heart and excitement is fantastic to see in a time where a lot of animated movies fail to strike that balance. Kung Fu Panda 2 is my animated movie of the year so far and it's also contender for action movie of the year too. The DVD rocks in both audio and video departments and has a thin but acceptable amount of extras. Of course Blu-ray is the obvious way to go with this one but this DVD is fine for those who don't have the option.
Review by Marcus Doidge
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 14th November 2011
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, English HoH
Extras: Commentary, Kickin' it with the Cast, Deleted Scenes, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Cast: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Gary Oldman
Length: 87 minutes
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