Monday, June 25, 2012

Kung Fu Panda 2 Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Kung Fu Panda 2, DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc.’s popular follow up to the Academy Award-nominated original debuted on Blu-ray and DVD on December 13, 2011.  Combining non-stop action, a fantastic cast, and stunning animation, this sequel delighted viewers of all ages with its engaging story and colorful visuals.  Featuring an all-star cast of voice talent including Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Michelle Yeoh, Danny McBride and Jean-Claude Van Damme, the film earned more than $650 million at the global box office, making it one of the top five films of the year worldwide.

Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

I enjoyed the first Kung Fu Panda but I didn’t really see the need for a sequel but I wasn’t too surprised when another one was made since that’s the modus operandi of Dreamworks Animation.  I also wasn’t enamored with the concept of kung fu animals but the first film worked in large part thanks to a believable villain who happened to be a tiger voiced by the great Ian McShane.  This time the villain is still voiced by an incredible actor (Gary Oldman) but he’s as threatening as a wet dish towel since he’s just a preening peacock.  We see his “traumatic experience” that happened years ago when his character Lord Shen gets himself in trouble with his parents who rule Gongmen City.  Shen wants to use the explosive power of fireworks to seize power but he’s warned by the goat soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh) that a warrior of “black and white” would defeat him one day, Shen orders the extermination of the pandas around the city.  His parents don’t take kindly to that and banish him which makes him so bitter at his exile that he swears revenge.
Thirty years pass, and Po (Jack Black) has become the Dragon Warrior and his fellow Kung Fu “Furious Five” comrades and him spend their days training and protecting the Valley of Peace and the people within it.  While Po has learned a lot during his time there, Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) tells him that he needs to achieve inner peace for a problem that the audience hasn’t seen until it was convenient to do so for this movie.  Suddenly, the easygoing Po has inner turmoil over where he came from and who is parents were and it’s these troubles that prevent him from reaching inner peace.  When Shen’s wolf thieves come to the Valley of Peach to steal every bit of metal for his war plans, the Furious Five go into action to stop them.  Normally, this kind of fight wouldn’t be a big deal for the Dragon Warrior and his friends but Po gets distracted by the symbol on the wolf leader’s (Danny McBride) armor, which triggers a flashback to his mother which is enough of a distraction that the wolves escape.  Now troubled by thoughts of his mother, Po asks his adoptive father Mr. Ping (James Wong) about where he came from and is told that he was found in a radish crate.
When Shifu learns that Master Thundering Rhino (Victor Garber), the head of the kung fu council that protects Gongmen City was killed by Shen and his new weapon, he tells his students that Shen intends to destroy kung fu and take over the world.  How a cannon can destroy kung fu isn’t really explained but I’ll go into that later.  Po and the Furious Five are dispatched to defeat Shen and once they sneak into Gongmen City, they discover the two remaining Council members Masters Storming Ox (Dennis Haysbert) and Croc (Jean-Claude Van Damme) imprisoned in the dungeon.  The two are too scared to join forces to defeat Shen and remain in jail by choice.  It’s not long before Po and the others are captured by Shen’s army and they are brought before Shen in his tower.  They quickly escape their shackles and attack Shen and his men, but once again, Po is distracted by Shen’s symbol and allows Shen to escape.
Angry at Po’s continual failure, Tigress (Angelina Jolie) confronts Po and he tells the group that he now knows that Shen was involved with his parents’ fate and wants to find out what happened.  Even though she understands his distress, Tigress tells him to remain behind for his own safety.  Ignoring her command, Po goes to Shen’s cannon factory to confront him once and for all but as usual, things go badly and he not only gets his friends captured, but he’s blasted out of the factory when he’s hit by one of Shen’s cannon shots.  He lands in the ruined village where he was born and he is cared for by Shen’s former soothsayer who he’s banished.  After recovering, Po is told by the soothsayer to embrace his past and finally remembers his parents sacrificing themselves to protect him while he hid in a radish crate.  Having finally achieved inner peace from this understanding, Po gets ready to rescue his friends and to stop Shen and his army.
The movie’s plot is contrived and the villain laughable, but there’s no denying the quality of the animation or what the actors bring to their roles.  While it makes no sense that Shen can believably take over the world with some heavy cannons since unless the kung fu masters oblige him by standing in one spot like Master Thundering Rhino, it’s very difficult to hit them.  The whole idea of a vicious peacock is pretty silly but that doesn’t mean that Gary Oldman isn’t good in the role because he is, but I wish the material was equal to his performance.  Jack Black and the rest of the this impressive cast are good in their roles and their personalities add a lot to the movie, especially Black who has made Po a replica of himself in panda form.  There’s a lot more action here than in the previous movie which is welcome, but a better script would have been nice.  This movie asks the audience to suspend their disbelief quite a bit at several eye-rolling moments that would have been more appropriate for a soap opera.

Video (5 out of 5 stars) 

One of the reasons I love seeing these animated movies is because lately they always look so good when they are released on Blu-ray and this movie is no different.  This 1080p (2.35:1) transfer looks amazing with exceptional detail and vivid colors that jump off the screen.  Every tuft of fur and every feather is visible and sharply defined  in this movie and it looks incredible.  The movie is basically a color explosion with hues of every color in every frame and it’s eye-catching visuals kept my three year old transfixed on the screen.  Black levels are solid and pitch black and the textures are impressive too.  There’s no defects present so I can happily rate this one as reference quality!

Audio (5 out of 5 stars) 

Kung Fu Panda 2′s Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix is just as perfect as it’s visuals.  Dialogue is crystal clear, with every growl, squawk, roar, and line well delivered by the front channels.  The rear channels are also well utilized since they provide a pleasing surround experience with very accurate directional effects that bounce around the room.  The sub-woofer also gets in on the action with some considerable power.  The movie’s score is also balanced well within the mix and never overshadows the dialogue or effects.  This too is reference quality!

Special Features (5 out of 5 stars) 

Kung Fu Panda 2 arrives with a ton of extras which is always nice, espcecially when they are also in high definition like these!  Included is an episode of the TV spinoff series “Legends of Awesomeness”, a picture in picture commentary track, a filmmaker commentary track, featurettes, and three bonus extras “Animation Inspiration”, “The Animators’ Corner”, and “Trivia Track” are included exclusively for the Blu-ray release.
  • Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Masters – A bonus cartoon starring Po that expands on his story.
  • Animation Inspiration – A behind the scenes look at the production team’s trip to China for inspiration.  Through photos and narration, we visit a collection of locations that were visited for the film which are available through an interactive map with select-able spots that include: Panda Village, Musicians Village, Valley of Peace, Journey Across China, Gongmen City, Tower of the Sacred Flame, Valley of Peace Town, and The Harbor.  Once a selection is made, the location is revealed through film clips, pictures, and their commentary about it.
  • The Animators’ Corner – A comprehensive look at the making of the film from the animator’s perspective through a picture in picture commentary track.  A discussion on the film’s themes, technical challenges, and more is covered by a lot of participants, including Jack Black.  This is a pretty cool track with a lot of information that’s delivered along with storyboards, rough animation examples, and more.
  • Trivia Track - A pop-up trivia track that offers a lot of information about the film including info about the characters, the making of the movie, the connections between the two movies, and some random trivia as well.
  • Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness – A full episode from the Nickelodeon television series that is a spin-off from the movies.  I wasn’t aware that there was a show out there, so it was nice to see it and my son really liked it.  The animation is surprisingly good for a television show.
  • Kickin’ It with the Cast – A short featurette that has some clips of the cast talking about the movie and their character.
  • Deleted Scenes – A collection of deleted scenes introduced by the director including: Fight Club – Bartender Scene, Po Chasing the Crow, and Po in Gongmen City.
  • Panda Stories – A look at the conservation efforts to save Pandas and a look at how the movie was influenced by real pandas and how the movie affects real life.
  • Kung Fu Shuffle – Two fun games for kids including ”Barrels of Bunnies!” and “Baby Po’s Great Crate Challenge.”
  • Ni Hao – An introductory look at writing and speaking Mandarin with the movie as an example.
  • Filmmakers Commentary – A jam-packed commentary with Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson; Producer Melissa Cobb; Production Designer Raymond Zibach; and Supervising Animator, Kung Fu Choreographer, and Story Artist Rodolphe Guenoden.  They talk about the genesis of the movie and their intentions for it as well as the challenges they faced during the making of it.  This track is more technical than the animation picture in picture track, but it is just as interesting.
  • World of DreamWorks Animation – A look at other Dreamworks productions including: ShrekHow to Train Your DragonKung Fu PandaMadagascar, and Megamind.
  • Kung Fu Panda World Online Game Memberships.
  • Digital Copy
  • DVD of the film

Final Thoughts (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

The movie could have benefited from a better script but it was still an enjoyable movie even though it played it fairly safe since it was essentially the first movie all over again but with some added mysticism.  The animation is excellent and if you love these movies, I can easily recommend this Blu-ray with it’s perfect video and sound and it’s extensive special features!
Order your copy today!

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