2011_kungfu_panda_2_web.jpgJust as the summer of sequels gets off to a running start, DreamWorks has decided to release their entry, complete with the original, kick-butt title of Kung Fu Panda 2.  To recap those of you who don’t have children or lost youth, the premise of this film is that a cuddly panda bear named Po, voiced by Jack Black, gets the once in a lifetime opportunity of becoming the hardened dragon warrior.

Po has always been a fan of kung fu and jumped at the chance to be included in the history books as one of the greats.  What’s so great about Kung Fu 2 is that Po hasn’t lost his overall charm as a cuddly, loves-to-eat, gentle panda bear.  Even though he is now the revered dragon warrior, Po is still down-to-earth.  It’s also a good message to children (and adults) that no matter what you look like, you can do anything you set your mind to do.

Screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger have done a tremendous job tying up the loose ends of the first Kung Fu Panda, while weaving that story into the overall plot of the sequel.  For instance, a lot of us adults wondered how a goose came to have a panda bear for a son.  But, not wanting to destroy the movie magic for the kids, we kept those questions to our selves.

Well, never fear readers, those questions do, indeed, get answered within the plot:  a villainous peacock named Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) is so in love with the invention of fireworks, he uses their very nature as a weapon of mass destruction.  Meanwhile, due to the prophecy of the soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh) that foretold his demise, Shen becomes the link to why a goose has raised a panda bear as his own son.

Thinking on all of the good, bad, and indifferent of 3D films and their worth, I would say that director Jennifer Yuh makes that extra $5-10 worth it.  Just looking at the life-like water and the attention to detail on the hairs of the animals is enough for the Urkel-looking 3D glasses.

In the creativity department, Kung Fu Panda 2 can stand on its own as a great children’s film.  But, as a proud aunt, I worry about the level of violence.  Sure, it’s awesome to see, as an adult, how the animators and special effects teams at DreamWorks are able to choreograph such movement and finesse with their bare hands.  Then again, with the realness of 3D, all of that movement and finesse may have some kids wanting the actual experience that comes with acting out action scenes.

In other words, just as with the first film, I am a bit concerned about kids beating each other up because they saw the same thing in Kung Fu Panda, and those animals didn’t get hurt.  However, it’s up to the parents to make sure their kids know the difference between real pain and cartoon.

Other major characters of note are: Tigress (Angelina Jolie) doing her tough chica thing and looking good while doing it, Mantis (Seth Rogen) as the lovable bug just waiting for the love of his life to bite his head off, Master Croc (Jean-Claude Van-Damme) and Master Oxen (Dennis Haysbert) as the wise animals who learn something from naïve Po. There are also Monkey (Jackie Chan) with his four lines in the entire film, the put-upon Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) who hates to see Po coming, and Crane (David Cross) as the silent hero swooping in to help save the day. KFP2 also has Viper (Lucy Liu), whose good with a lock, and Mr. Ping (James Hong) who gets my vote for #1 dad of the year.

This latest entry into the sea of sequels has waded through the pirates and the fast cars to be a pretty good children’s film.  You just have to make sure you explain the difference between computer generated imagery fighting and pain – and real fighting and pain.  The less children sent to the emergency room, the better.

Kimberly Grant may be reached at KAliciaG@aol.com