Dreamworks needed a hit, bad. Before the first 'Kung Fu Panda' we had to endure 'Flushed Away,' 'Shrek the Third ,' and 'Bee Movie.' While their biggest rival Pixar churned out fan favorite 'Cars' and critical darling 'Ratatouille' in the same time period. It was clear they really needed a franchise that could attract the kids but also appeal to adult sensibilities. 'Kung Fu Panda' was it. Not only did the lush animation finally make it feel that Dreamworks was knocking on the door of Pixar quality, but the story and characters were fun, inventive, and at their core, emotional. However, it's hard to get lightning to strike twice.
That's the case with 'Kung Fu Panda 2.' We're once again reintroduced to the main characters. We have The Furious Five, with their newest member Po. An overweight Panda, who inexplicably became the Dragon Warrior in the first movie, voiced by Jack Black. Po and his band of kung fu masters have learned that an evil, power-hungry peacock named Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) has created a weapon more powerful than kung fu. Harnessing the power of gun powder Lord Shen threatens to lay waste to all of China.
It's been a running joke in 'Kung Fu Panda' that Po is obviously adopted. His father is a goose, but Po is still somehow oblivious to that fact. Things change in this movie as we learn along with Po about where he came from, how he ended up with his adopted father, and what happened to all the pandas in the land. The first film had Po trying to overcome his physical drawbacks; the second film is centered more around Po's emotional demons.
The drawback of the second installment in this franchise is that the first half of the movie feels too much like a Saturday morning cartoon special. Rehashing the same jokes, reintroducing us to characters we already know. Juvenile potty humor and comically over-the-top fight scenes all serve to undermine the much better second half.
Once we start learning more about Po's past the movie switches gears. No longer is it merely a movie to showcase fluffy animals beating the stuffing out of each other. After the stiff first act is in the past, the movie starts to develop into a rather emotional tale. We find out about Po's past during some truly harrowing flashbacks. Po's origin story adds emotion to a film that was, until now, riding along on the same old jokes as the first movie. The flashbacks feature some rather glorious 2D animation which reminds us that it can be just as spectacularly amazing as 3D animation.
The action scenes in the second half are also better. They become more focused. They serve a purpose, to further the story of Po's checkered past.
'Kung Fu Panda 2' really is the story of two halves. The first half is total kiddie fare. It's light-hearted, but much of the wonder is lost because we've already been introduced to this world and these characters in the first film. The second half, however, is worth staying around for.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Paramount and DreamWorks Home Entertainment release this 3D Blu-ray edition of 'Kung Fu Panda 2' as a three-disc combo pack and a downloadable Digital Copy. The first two are BD50 discs (3D only compatible with 3D equipment; the other, 2D and Region Free) but only the second contains supplements. The third is a DVD-9 for standard-def players. All three are housed inside the usual blue keepcase and a glossy slipcover. At start-up, the disc starts with a 3D preview for 'Puss in Boots,' and afterwards, switches to an animated main menu with music.
Like its 2D counterpart, this 3D edition of 'Kung Fu Panda 2' comes out swinging with a stunning, reference quality 1080p/MVC encode. Even while wearing the dark glasses, the 2.35:1 picture frame is comfortably bright with sharp contrast levels. From one scene to the next, blacks remain profoundly rich and inky without sacrificing clear visibility within the shadows. In fact, some of the animation's strongest aspects come from the many nighttime sequences where viewers can see far into the distance the tops of buildings, the glow of lanterns and the rolling hills. Colors are lush and full of life with vivid, deeply-saturated primaries and showing a splendid variety of secondary hues.
The rest of the video displays incredible definition and resolution with several jaw-dropping moments. The fall of the tower in Gongmen City is one such scene. With pitch-perfect contract and brightness, viewers can see the tiniest facet and feature of the architecture, even as characters scale the building. Amazingly, there is no loss in quality — no detectable motion blur, ghosting or any other annoying artifact. From the clothing on animals and individual hairs to the foliage in the distance, every frame shows razor-sharp details and immaculate clarity. Rather than being a hindrance, the 3D transfer only seems to enhance the animation's other positive aspects.
From beginning to end, dimensionality is simply phenomenal as daylight scenes create a wonderful illusion of distance, and there's practically no trace of crosstalk. Alleyways and other tight spaces, like when the Furious Five first enter Gongmen City, are some of the best moments, showing small objects and characters as if actually really far away from the foreground. The fall of the tower is, once again, the showstopper as things keep moving away from and towards the screen. The finale when Po combats Lord Shen's cannon boats is another, providing the sort of 3D gimmicks that are fun and exciting without seeming like some forced stunt. This Blu-ray edition of 'Kung Fu Panda 2' is truly one of the best 3D presentations we've seen yet.
The DreamWorks animated flick also arrives with a marvelous Dolby TrueHD soundtrack that will give anyone's system an ample workout. The design is chock full of varied sounds occupying nearly all the channels, creating a very satisfying 360-degree soundfield. Quieter scenes come with subtle atmospherics, like leaves blowing in the wind, filling the room with a enveloping sense of tranquility. Louder segments are naturally explosive with tons of activity throughout, aided with a punchy, highly-responsive low-end. Debris and fireworks move into the rears with fluid ease, generating a terrifically immersive experience of discrete effects that pan from one speaker to the next flawlessly.
In the front soundstage, things only keep getting better. Imaging is exceptional with an expanse that genuinely feels wide and vast, maintaining viewers' engagement from beginning to end. Dynamic range is remarkably detailed as an extensive variety of sounds can be differentiated from one another, and they move across the screen with grand transparency. The voices of actors are very well-prioritized, coming in loud and clear amid the track's bombast and thunderous roars. Normal conversations are surprisingly lifelike with astonishing movement within the center channel. The music of Hans Zimmer and John Powell also enjoys the benefits of high-rez audio, delivering a great deal of warm presence with splendid accuracy and clarity.
The lossless mix for this fun follow-up to the adventures of Po is a reference quality presentation with much for listeners to enjoy.
This 3D edition of 'Kung Fu Panda' comes with a copy of the same 2D Blu-ray disc containing all the bonus material.
The original cast of DreamWorks's popular CGI-animation film with a kung-fu fighting panda bear return for a slightly more serious follow-up. 'Kung Fu Panda 2' is a delightfully entertaining sequel, one that's surprisingly just as good as it predecessor. It does start off rather clumsily, but quickly gains its footing with a new villain by way of the always-amazing Gary Oldman and a touching origins plot. This 3D Blu-ray edition of the family movie arrives with reference quality audio and video, both in the 2D realm as in the third-dimension. Supplements are identical to the previous release, making this 3D presentation the one to buy for those with the proper equipment to enjoy it.