Kung Fu Panda 2

"I hope this turns out better than your plan to cook rice in your stomach by eating it raw and then drinking boiling water..." - Tigress to Po. Well it turned out better than that.
The prevailing mood in Hollywood right now seems to be: 'well, if we throw US$120 million at it, something's bound to stick!' Subsequently, I find myself writing a lot about popular franchises this weather. And there does seem to have been a heavy spell of origin tales and remakes recently. That can mean only one thing. It's summer blockbuster season!
So far, since the UK's premature heat-wave ended in the middle of May, we've had April's showers in June and with them a whole host of damp and disappointing big budget flops. Thankfully we've had one or two rays of sunshine (last weather analogy) but not many. In fact only the new X Men movie was worth writing home about (yeah, like that'd stop me writing home). As for the token big budget flop quota, so far it's been filled by On Stranger Tides. I haven't seen The Hangover part II or its hen-party version Bridesmaids but in spite of their box office success I'm leaving it that way.
Expectations for KFP2 weren't sky high, but I loved the original and couldn't imagine not having fun. So I went along to make this my first CGI movie review of 2011. A milestone and no mistake.
This time on a journey to uncover the mystery of his hazy origins, hapless hero Po (Jack Black) hopes to find out why his father is a Goose and not a Panda, as he embarks on an adventure of self discovery (though not the crazy student Gap-year kind). He sets out with the furious five to defeat evil Peacock, Lord Shen, and his devilish new weapon of fire and metal which promises to destroy Kung Fu and bring China to its knees.
On his journey of self discovery Po finds the inner peace he has been missing and realises that being mad at the past is pointless: "The only thing that matters is what you choose to be now". If all this sounds pretty full-on for a kid's movie, that's because it is pretty full-on for a kids movie. Like other Dreamworks productions, the film's strength is its refusal to under-estimate its young audience. Which is, in itself, pretty awesome.
I don't envy Jennifer Yuh. Following Kung Fu Panda was always going to be an uphill task. An effort akin to Po's memorable struggle, from the first movie, to reach the top of the mountainous stair which marks the passage to  the Kung Fu temple, home of the legendary 'Furious Five' (voiced by a whole host of action stars including Jackie Chan and Angelina Jolie). A similar moment in the sequel sees Po's spirits sink at the bottom of a ludicrously tall stairway, 'my old enemy... stairs!!!'.
Unfortunately, there were just too many 'similar' moments and re-cycled jokes, funny the first time but second time round felt a bit like going through the motions. Aside from a handful of laugh out loud moments - though in truth they were more like audible giggles - it just wasn’t as funny as the first one and I couldn’t help feeling that they overdid the Kung Fu a bit. Watching Po's struggle to master the martial art in the first film was engaging but now that he's a 'master', he's no longer the underdog (underpanda?), so naturally we don't root for him as easily.
I shouldn't be too harsh though, the positives do outweigh the negatives, and complaints which include 'too much CGI kung fu' are never really complaints. If you have young kids, Rio is equally colourful, with birds instead of Pandas, and less violence. But if you're wondering what to do with your youngsters this weekend, this will keep them occupied while you try to avoid judo chops from every angle and an errant shoe or two. Ronan Wright blogs about films from Belfast at Filmplicity


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