Wednesday, May 25, 2011

'Kung Fu Panda 2' Kicks It Up a Notch

"Kung Fu Panda 2" (Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Animation via

As the billboards say, Po, the cuddly and unlikely hero of dragon warrior fame is "back for seconds" in "Kung Fu Panda 2," hitting theaters May 26. And in this movie's case, seconds is even tastier than firsts.

I had the chance to catch a sneak peek of this 3D animated film at the DreamWorks Animation lot a couple of weeks ago, and let me tell you, I wasn't the only one sniffling and clapping in the cozy on-site theater. (I saw lots of other moms wiping away tears, but more on that later.)

Picking up after the first Panda incarnation, "Kung Fu Panda 2," directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and distributed by Paramount Pictures, has the lighthearted Po (voiced by Jack Black) literally stuffing his face with dumplings (something I can totally identify with). When they're not goofing around with tasty treats, he and the Furious Five are training to keep up their skills as protectors of their bustling Chinese village.

But it's when Po finds his mentor Shifu (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) alone, trying to master inner peace, that the oversized panda begins his own rocky road to enlightenment.

And he'll need it -- and a whole lot of dragon warrior power, too -- when he confronts a ruthless enemy in peacock Lord Shen (voiced with menace by Gary Oldman), who was banished from the kingdom by his own distraught parents after some particularly merciless destruction.

This time he's back, and he's brought the big guns -- literally. Lord Shen has found a new, perhaps more powerful weapon than kung fu or even swords and shields. It's a massive cannon, and he's not afraid to use it.

(Note to parents: While there is absolutely nothing graphic in this film, there might be a few scenes that make younger children cling to parents' arms. Implied destruction and loss could be scary for the little ones.)

But when Po catches a glimpse of this enemy's insignia -- on warrior uniforms and eventually on the peacock himself -- he is transported back to a fuzzy time when he arrived at the doorstep of his adoptive goose father, Mr. Ping (voiced by James Hong). Suddenly questions of where he came from pop up. Audiences also have the pleasure of seeing Baby Po, the adorable infant panda who came to Mr. Ping in a radish crate.

Let's just say that the more Po realizes, the more personal his fight against Lord Shen becomes. And he must trust his friends, the Furious Five, and delve into that seemingly impossible task of achieving inner peace.

Like I said before, there were tears. Good tears. This film, much more so than its predecessor, touches on really meaningful, heartfelt moments while still being fun and engaging for audiences of all ages.

CC wasn't able to go with me to see the sneak peek, but I'll definitely be taking her to see "Kung Fu Panda 2" (and Baby Po!) once it arrives on Thursday.

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