Running too late to catch the 2D screening of Kung Fu Panda 2, I reluctantly accepted the 3D glasses from the usher, anxious about the eye strain that was soon to be mine. To my surprise, despite a bloody 3D Friskies commercial jammed between film trailers, I was able to enjoy Kung Fu Panda 2 in 3D. In fact, it was the best 3D film I have seen (yep, even better than Avatar) and it 3D actually added to the film experience. Did I also mention this was a genuine sequel, setting out to develop characters and their story beyond the initial volley? Kung Fu Panda 2 is full of surprises.
Following the events of the delightful animated original from 2008, Kung Fu Panda 2 returns to Po (Jack Black) and his colleagues, the Furious Five, as they face off against peacock Shen (Gary Oldman), whose technological tricks pose threats to both Kung Fu and the world.
As much as everyone complains about film sequels and the death of originality in cinema, you’ve got to give props to Dreamworks, who produced Panda 2, for waiting till the right script came along for this sequel. The writers justify the second entry by taking up Po’s origins (a legit extension since he’s a panda and his father’s a goose) and exploring the rise of industrialization and the weapons that process brings. A sequel should expand the universe established in the previous installment, but without becoming overbloated (Pirates of the Caribbean, The Matrix), and Panda 2 does just that.
Further, the 3D is simply mesmerizing. One common 3D critique concerns the issue of focus. If all objects on the screen are in focus, that makes it difficult for the eye to pick out which object it should focus on. Kung Fu Panda 2 marks the first time that I’ve seen a film using 3D with selective focus. Your eye quickly seizes on the item in focus, allowing the 3D magic to take full effect. Shots of Po and Master Shifu under a waterfall are made all the more stunning thanks to proper use of the technology. If all films used the 3D technology in Kung Fu Panda 2,I don’t know if it would add anything (would Schindler’s List work in 3D?), but used for the right types of stories, I would finally be willing to watch films in 3D with regularity.
The film could do more than re-hash the British accented villain with daddy issue (though kudos for making a peacock menacing) and too often trades its drama for cutesiness. Yet, the fight sequences will make you want to sign up at your local dojo, the film offers some visual gags that will have you cackling with glee, and makes you care about the story. All of this praise for a 3D sequel to an animated film. Pixar better watch its back.