FILM REVIEW: Kung Fu Panda 2
Po, centre, and the Furious Five are back in Kung Fu Panda 2. (Paramount Pictures)
I have seen the future of 3D and it is the shape of a panda.
Let me explain.
Until now, most 3D films -- such as the recent Pirates of the Caribbean 4 and (shudder) Green Hornet haven't quite reached Avatar-like levels of audience immersion. Far too often, the 3D is dark, difficult to see or totally pointless.
Yet, this kiddie kung fu flick delivers one of the most artful implementations of the technology I've seen since Werner Herzog's The Cave of Forgotten Dreams.
Perhaps it's because computer animators are used to working in the third dimension, but Kung Fu Panda 2 looks fabulous. The animal warriors glint in the light like perfectly carved plastic figurines. Even the opening credits use subtle floating silhouettes to set up the new villain, Lord Shen, a peacock voiced by Gary Oldman.
But it's more than just technical proficiency. In KFP2, the 3D isn't just a gimmick, it's also a narrative device. Our hero Po's flashbacks, where he recalls his original parents, are rendered in flat 2D. The colourful cartoon style, painted with bold brushstrokes, underlines the transition in time.
Closer to the end of the film, Po has a breakthrough and -- at his moment of realization -- the 2D visuals acquire depth. The transition back into 3D is quite moving and a case where the technology actually adds to the story.
Of course, none of these bells and whistles would work if the film itself didn't have good characters to begin with. Returning as the voice of Po, chubby champion Jack Black is in his element.
Black has never lacked passion and what makes his Po so endearing is that he's both a fighter and a fan boy. Watch carefully as he and the Furious Five leap into battle: you can see the panda glancing over at his comrades, relishing the moment.
Obviously, a lot of love has gone into this production. That's not to say it's perfect: I could have done without the quips from Seth Rogen's praying mantis. Po's search for self also slows down the story somewhat. But from the architecture of the ancient Chinese city to the sparkling cannonballs arcing through the sky, KFP2 is a symphony of graceful notes.
Credit goes to Jennifer Yuh who was promoted from storyboard artist to director for the sequel. Certainly having an artistic eye guiding the production might explain how a cartoon about a high-kicking panda became so aesthetically inspired.
RATING: For sumptuous second story that packs a punch, Kung Fu Panda 2 rates four rice dumplings out of five.
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