Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2

If you're looking for a lot of story, this is not the movie for you. While there are interesting developments that might keep the attention of an adult, most of the plot is fairly low-level and child-sized, which you should probably expect from most animated movies not coming from Pixar nowadays. It does have some historical significance, as the evil Lord Shin (voiced by Gary Oldman) discovers that the gunpowder used in the fireworks the people used to celebrate can also be used to make powerful weapons, the likes of which have not been seen. Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) receives a vision of the impending danger if Shin is allowed to go about his plans unchecked and so sends Po (Jack Black) and the Furious Five out to stop Shin's villainy.

Tucked into this main plot is the nice side story of where Po comes from, why he's a panda whose father is a goose. Somehow Po is wrapped up in a prophecy that guides Shin's plans, all of which lead to Po being orphaned in the first place. At any rate, the plot is mildly complex, enough to keep a child's attention between vigorous set pieces of kung fu goodness and appealing to adults, if a little predictable.

Why adults should want to see Kung Fu Panda 2 is the brilliant animation that drives the movie. The animators and art directors did simply brilliant work that sometimes challenges the best of Pixar. Several elements stand out; at the most basic, the color palette precisely matches the mood of the movie moment by moment, ensuring that the audience feels what the creators want them to feel and sometimes even offering a hint that everything is not as it appears. The choreography of the fight scenes is filled with style and vigor, but accurately reflect the near-insanity of the best martial arts pictures. Those scenes also sometimes use humor to punctuate the organized chaos—not just the humor of an unaesthetic panda attempting ridiculous martial art moves, but also bystanders participating and the unexpected introduction of tools and props.

Two other elements lift Kung Fun Panda 2 above the average animation fare. First, the background animation throughout the movie is just phenomenal. The first movie spends a lot of time outdoors or in a small village, but Kung Fun Panda 2 moves into a large Chinese city, allowing the animators to play with traditional Chinese architecture and colors. Every view of the city, whether the long shot as Po and his band first see the city or up close as the characters wander through it, is precise and beautiful. Some of the long shots of the city, especially during the night, are breath-taking and well worth the study.

The animators also chose to animate Po's flashbacks, the re-emerging memories of his original family, in classic flat animation using a style that appears hand-drawn and is based on traditional Chinese art. These moments are used to good effect, reflecting simplicity and immaturity while still possessing an artistic quality that is uncommon in most animated fare. Especially compelling is when the 2-D and CGI animation are used in the same frame.

Kung Fu Panda 2 succeeds on many levels. Kid will love it, and their parents will be entertained. But the real treasure is for the lover of animation, those folks who appreciate the elements that go into outstanding animation. In fact, Kung Fu Panda 2 is the first movie I have seen in 2-D that made me wish I had paid the full 3-D price. For its art alone, Kung Fu Panda 2 is worth the price of seeing it more than once.

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