Tuesday, November 9, 2010

'Kung Fu Panda 2' review

Kung Fu Panda 2 is an upcoming animated film and the sequel to the 2008 film, Kung Fu Panda.[1] It is set to be in 3-D and will be directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson, with most of the original cast returning, along with some new characters.[1] The film is set to be released on May 27, 2011 and was originally going to be named Kung Fu Panda 2: The Kaboom of Doom or Kung Fu Panda 2: Pandamonium.
(from Wikipedia.org)

It saddens me to think that the animation industry is turning more and more into a direct-to-DVD sequel machine. True, Disney has been doing it for years, but they’ve always been such a powerhouse it hardly seemed to matter. Now the other big name studios are jumping on the bandwagon. Pixar is foregoing original stories for sequels. Dreamworks is capitalizing on its better stories, not by pushing itself to make more original works, but by making sequels out of them. The economy being in its current state, it really isn’t all that surprising; movie makers especially are playing it safe, going with the franchises they trust to bring them the most money. It’s good business, even if it is a bit stifling to the creative side of the industry. Lately, though, I am less and less thrilled by upcoming animated titles.

So why am I even bringing up this madness? Because I received a glimmer of hope in the form of the recently-released teaser trailer for ‘Kung Fu Panda 2: the Kaboom of Doom.’ Now, when I first read that title, I rolled my eyes too. But in the interest of keeping up to speed with animation news, I went ahead and watched the teaser. And was pleasantly surprised. Here is the epitome of what a teaser trailer should do; it teases. It puts me in mind of the great minimalistic teasers we’ve seen in the past from Pixar – think of the subtle beauty of the one for ‘A Bug’s Life,’ the hilarious cleverness of the one for ‘Monsters, Inc.,’ and the wildly innovative one for ‘WALL-E.’ This teaser for KFP2 follows that simplistic tradition. We are given absolutely no insight to the plot whatsoever. All we get is the main character, in a rather generic background, cracking his knuckles and placidly humming the tune of ‘Kung Fu Fighting,’ a song that has become irrevocably tied to the franchise. This puts fans of the first film at ease – it’s familiar. We know the song, we know and love the character. The entire teaser rests on two gags that are both charmingly unexpected in their resolution (the staring contest actually made me ‘lol’) and promise the same kind of heart and humor that the first film delivered.

The visuals seem to have improved; to me, at least, the fur looks better, and the animation promises to be just as smooth, if not more so, than in the first film. One thing I did notice, though – the sets all seem to be in 3D this time. A little-known fact about the first film is that none of the backgrounds were modeled; all were matte paintings. Obviously matte paintings don’t afford the same freedom with the camera as a three-dimensional set would, but I thought the backgrounds in the first film were quite beautiful – and I for one didn’t even notice they weren’t 3D until it was pointed out to me. This probably makes little difference to the story in the long run, and if they did make the change I’m sure they had a reason for it – the fact that the first film just barely missed stereoscopic 3D could have something to do with it. Who knows, maybe this means fight scenes that are even more dynamic.

Furthermore, this teaser lacks all the false theatricality of the teaser for ‘Cars 2’ (wow… I never thought I would make a comparison between Pixar and Dreamworks where the latter came off looking better…) and it is this simplicity, in fact, that puts me most at ease about the film. I was just discussing movie trailers with a friend of mine, and she happened to bring up the fact that the less a movie seems to give away in its trailer, the better the movie typically is. This isn’t always the case, of course; but I have to agree that it feels true. Directors who have a strong story on their hands seem to be able to afford to give away less in the trailers. The KFP2 teaser offers no real insight into the film. And it doesn’t need to. It serves its purpose in reassuring the fans that their beloved Panda will be just as gung-ho and good-hearted as always.

Does this automatically guarantee that ‘Kung Fu Panda 2: the Kaboom of Doom’ will be a hit? Of course not. But it’s the first animated trailer I’ve seen in a while now that has actually gotten me excited. ‘Kung Fu Panda’ is still one of my favorite Dreamworks films. For me, it marked a turning point in their 3D animation, and I remain hopefully optimistic that the sequel will live up to the first one. I’m so optimistic, in fact, that I might just see this one before it comes out on DVD.

EDIT: Just got the chance to see this trailer in theaters, in front of 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.' What I didn't notice on my small computer screen is that you can actually see a reflection of what looks like a movie theater audience in Po's eyes. Look closely at the YouTube video and you'll be able to see it. It's that attention to detail that really gets me excited, and makes for a more immersive experience.

(Odd as it may be, I'm really enjoying reviewing things that haven't come out yet.)


  1. I know how you feel! Looking at the next two years here's what we have to look forward to:
    Kung Fu Panda 2: The Kaboom of Doom
    Cars 2
    Puss in Boots: The Story of an Ogre Killer The Croods
    Madagascar 3
    Monsters Inc 2

    We're not getting an original movie from Pixar or Dreamworks next year and out of 7 movies only two aren't sequels! And toss in that what may be Disney's last big shot at 2D is going to be another Whiney the Pooh movie!

    I guess it had to happen, things were going so well the last few years.

  2. It is a bit discouraging, isn't it? Brave is probably the one I'm most looking forward to. What's The Croods? I don't think I've heard of that...

    Oh, and I saw that you're on imdb! That's so cool!