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Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Kung Fu Panda 2

Directed by: Jennifer Yuh Nelson

Produced by: Melissa Cobb
Guillermo del Toro

Written by: Jonathan Abel
Glenn Berger

Starring: Jack Black
Angelina Jolie
Gary Oldman
Dustin Hoffman
Jackie Chan
Seth Rogen
Lucy Liu
David Cross
James Hong

Music by: Hans Zimmer
John Powell

Editing by: Clare Knight

Studio: DreamWorks Animation

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Release date(s): May 26, 2011 (United States)
June 10, 2011 (United Kingdom)
June 23, 2011 (Australia)

Running time: 91 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $150 million

Gross revenue (as of publication): $536, 866, 756

I tell you guys, I have made some awesome buys on DVD lately. I've been shopping primarily out of a shop called Head (I know, horrible name), picking up great films such as Tetsuo: The Iron Man, but also building up a stockpile with stuff like Capturing The Friedman's and a very nice book/film combo of The Hustler for £2. It is rare that I buy a DVD over a £5 these days, and it is my sincere recommendation, no matter how much you like movies, that you rarely do so yourself. The only 'expensive' purchase (at £6) I made was a full restored version of Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse der Spieler. Considering the specialist nature of the film (silent movie, four-and-a-half hours long), that is a good buy. Also, I'm finding that the YouTube uploading service is shit, and my attempt's to branch out into video reviewing is getting pretty hampered, so you'll be seeing me here quite a lot over the next few weeks.

So, the film here today is Kung Fu Panda 2. For those of you who don't know the history of my blog (I don't expect you to, the early stuff is boring anyway), I was a big fan of the original Kung Fu Panda film, so much so that I bestowed upon it the honour of my Stan and Ollie Award for Best Comedic Film of 2008. In Kung Fu Panda 2, Po (Jack Black) and the rest of his fellow Kung Fu masters return to confront, as Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) seems to predict, that the nefarious Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) has returned, creating a weapon that threatens the very existence of Kung Fu. Furthermore, Po is forced to confront the demons of his past in order to achieve inner peace.

One of the best things about the original was the all-star vocal cast, and the sequel follows suit in this manner. Jack Black, who I think is one of the most charismatic funny-men in America gives Po an instantly likeable and humorous presence onscreen. Also, he handles well the rather emotional character arc of Po with real dignity and pathos. Dustin Hoffman is also good once again as Master Shifu. However, the really great voice role in the film belongs to Gary Oldman as Lord Shen. It is almost as though this is a role he had been waiting for, understanding the absurdity of it appearing in celluloid, unleashing it now that he is playing an animated character. Shen is at once absolutely terrifying (a great achievement, given that he is a peacock) and a great comic creation. Furthermore, Oldman's vocal performance makes him feel real, a flesh and bone character, despite being a bunch of animated pixels: we feel for Shen and there is strong pathos in his character arc. I would like to point out as a positive the arc's of both Shen and Po, and the parallels they possess. Both are character's who ultimately are damaged as the result of circumstances outside their control. These decisions involve their parents, but it is the attitude that both take that defines them. The theme of parents, origins and birthright give the film one of it's greatest strengths. Finally, I would like to point out the film's imagery and imagination. Clearly there has been more research done into the Asian/Buddhist/Kung Fu iconography, and this gives the film a unique feel and taste. The use of Po as the prothesized enemy of "black-and-white" takes the yin-ying symbol, transplants it to the physical features of the panda and turns it into a plot point. Also, the film look absolutely wonderful. The original looked the part, but DreamWorks Animation have really outdone themselves this time. It is completely seamless and of an appropriate frame-rate, but also the colour palette is really balanced and of a great variety. If anything, Kung Fu Panda 2 stands as a testament to the real beauty and potential of contemporary animation.

That said, despite the fact I am and will gladly gush over a number of the points in Kung Fu Panda 2, it is by no means faultless. In fact, there are actually a number of severe problems with the film. Despite strong thematic content and character arcs, the film is tedious and predictable, and more importantly, it simply isn't as funny as the original. The balance of great comedy and story has teetered too far towards the story this time around and not enough towards the comedy. I found the 2D-dream sequences/memories of Po harrowing, but the film just was not that funny. I fear that with DreamWorks now having another cash cow on their hands, they are going to turn this into the new Shrek series, and milk the cow until it is a dry skin-and-bone abomination. Furthermore, the film does feel very undeveloped. For such strong material with regard to thematic content, it is a real shame that more time was not spent on scribing the film with the respect that it's characters deserve. Also, it is clear that they have spent so much time and invested some much effort in the film that it seems a waste for the film to feel as lacking as it does. To use a horrible pun, it lacks the punch of the original.

The script is pretty flawed and there are a number of elements in the film which just seem to be there for the sake of being there, their potential being wasted, but Kung Fu Panda 2 is by no means a bad movie. It is certainly a good movie, with some great vocal performances from Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman and (particularly) Gary Oldman. Also, DreamWorks Animation has crossed over into new bounds of brilliance in the visual style and beauty of it's animation, bringing to mind the scale (on occasion) of something like James Cameron's Avatar. Finally, the film is worth seeing for the emotional depth of the thematic content surrounding parents alone. I did find myself on the point of tears at one point. Even though the floodgates did not open, that is an achievement in itself. While not a perfect movie, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a good movie to go and see, and is worth the price of a ticket.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.8/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Active (for the first time in a few weeks, I feel genuinely awake and like I have achieved something today)

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