'Kung Fu Panda 2' a kick above the rest
"Kung Fu Panda" sounds like the name of a generic Chinese restaurant.
Curiously enough, so does "Kung Fu Panda 2."
Fortunately, this latest animated helping serves plenty of eye candy, a tasty story and no MSG.
"Kung Fu Panda 2" gets this summer of sequels off to a surprisingly good start, delivering superb animation, solid voice acting and a sound story that can satisfy both young and old.
Jack Black ("Tropic Thunder") returns to voice titular panda Po, now perfectly adept at kung fu and enjoying every jump-kicking minute of it.
Still fighting alongside the star-studded Furious Five - Tigress (Angelina Jolie, "Salt"), Mantis (Seth Rogen, "The Green Hornet"), Crane (David Cross, HBO's "Mr. Show with Bob and David"), Viper (Lucy Liu, "Payback") and Monkey (Jackie Chan, "Rush Hour") - and their master, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman, "Last Chance Harvey"), Po uncovers a new threat to the Valley of Peace.
It seems an evil peacock, Shen (Gary Oldman, "The Dark Knight"), is determined to put an end to kung fu with a deadly new weapon. Whereas his ancestors used gunpowder for fireworks and the like, Shen's been using it as, well, gunpowder, building cannons to conquer the known world.
Furthermore, it seems Shen is responsible for the demise of China's pandas, including Po's parents, as a soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") predicted his defeat at the hands (or paws) of a panda.
Po and the Five promptly embark on a quest to defeat Shen, but to do so, Po must first achieve inner peace by confronting his past and embracing the future.
"Kung Fu Panda 2" is one of the rare instances where the sequel is almost better than the first.
Director Jennifer Yuh, who worked as an artist on the first film, and returning writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger keep the story character-driven and compelling, despite a certain degree of predictability.
The voice acting is spot on, particularly with Black and Oldman, who are convincing enough to make empathizing with anthropomorphic, kung fu fighting animals seem natural.
Like its predecessor, "Kung Fu Panda 2" has heart, and its expert animation serves to accentuate, rather than dominate. But the animation is something to behold. Rich in texture and impeccably detailed, this is the rare instance where the 3-D treatment actually enhances the viewing.
And to its credit, the film deftly dodges a notorious bullet that seems to plug almost every animated feature these days. I'm happy to say there are no computer-generated animals dancing to pop music.
"Kung Fu Panda 2," rated PG for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, see page 16 or visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.