Back in black (and white)

Popular panda returns for another fun adventure

Kung Fu Panda 2
Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

If you replace the wizards of the Harry Potter films with a bunch of talking animals (and switch the live-action for CGI animation), you’ve pretty much got DreamWorks’ Kung Fu, round two. And considering how popular Harry’s been, I’d say that’s not such a bad thing.

But instead of Mr. Potter, we get the loveable, plump panda, Po (Jack Black), who’s back again, happily guarding the Valley of Peace since becoming a respected Dragon Warrior. But serenity won’t last long, because the evil Chinese peacock Lord Shen (voiced by the very British Gary Oldman, but just go with it), is determined to take reign over China with the aid of newly developed explosives, disrupting the peaceful philosophy of Kung Fu. When Po and his friendly fighting gang attempt to stop the peacock, Po learns that Shen was responsible for his parents’ death years ago, only heightening Po’s incentive to defeat the evil lord (sound familiar yet?)

So we’ve heard that story before, yet this is different. Set against the backdrop of ancient China, the film’s homage to Asian cultural traditions is a refreshing change from the majority of American family films. The references to meditation practices and themes revolving around finding one’s “inner peace” may seem too philosophical for kids, but it’s eliciting a straightforward lesson: be confident with yourself and you can do anything. A simple message that any kid—heck, any adult—should be reminded of occasionally.

Also, from a technical standpoint, the film explores a different path. We get the high-tech CGI animation, but it’s complemented by a pseudo comic-book-style approach that’s used to represent Po’s internal thoughts. These sequences respectfully keep the “old” styles of animation alive in a simple but striking manner.

So even if you’re not technically a kid, go and have a few laughs (remember, it’s starring Jack Black). I’m not saying it’s the best animated film of the year, but this is feel-good entertainment that will leave you with inner peace until the next Kung Fu installment.