China in your hands

is gor­geously an­i­mated from start to fin­ish, but it clob­bers its youngest view­ers with an overly se­ri­ous, sur­pris­ingly laugh-free story, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews -

SEVEN YEARS ago, dur­ing the late Tri­as­sic Pe­riod for com­put­er­gen­er­ated fea­tures, DreamWorks de­liv­ered a truly ghastly – though hugely suc­cess­ful – an­i­mated en­ter­tain­ment called Shark Tale. With its lazy in-jokes, hor­ren­dous vi­su­als and lum­ber­ing plot­ting, the film risked turn­ing the stu­dio into the Happy Madi­son of the new in­dus­try (if you don’t get that dig, we are ref­er­enc­ing Adam San­dler’s pro­duc­tion com­pany). Shark Tale’s suc­cess en­sured, surely, that DreamWorks would not bother to raise its stan­dards.

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Well, to be fair to the trou­bled com­pany, the boffins worked hard at de­vel­op­ing more nu­anced, more lav­ishly pro­duced fam­ily fea­tures. The Shrek fran­chise drifted into de­cline, but re­cent pro­duc­tions such as King Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon and Mega­mind have demon­strated that DreamWorks can oc­cupy the same ring as the mighty Pixar.

Which brings us to the un­usual beast (in more ways than one) that is Kung Fu Panda 2. Few more beau­ti­fully crafted films will come your way this sea­son. Of­fer­ing lav­ish por­traits of an­cient China, fea­tur­ing sweep­ing vir­tual cam­era moves that daz­zle the senses, scored to clever pas­tiches of Asian tunes, the pic­ture show­cases the new me­dia to heart-stop­ping ef­fect. Bung it on a wide-screen and hang it in your near­est gallery of rep­re­sen­ta­tional art. If you want a gor­geous blend of pop sen­si­bil­ity and Wu xia, then this is your only man. Blah, blah, blah.

But hang on a mo­ment. Isn’t Kung Fu Panda 2 sup­posed to be a fam­ily film? When Jack Black voices a panda named Po, we ex­pect, surely, the beast to re­peat­edly fall into pud­dles and dance amus­ingly to con­tem­po­rary funk clas­sics. If we wanted tur­bocharged Akira Kurosawa, then that is what we would have asked for.

For all of this se­quel’s virtues, it’s hard to avoid the con­clu­sion that the pic­ture is not nearly funny enough. Min­utes pass by with­out any­thing like a joke an­nounc­ing it­self. More en­ergy is put into an­i­mat­ing the lovely cityscapes than find­ing ob­jects for the pro­tag­o­nist to run into. Still, it is a beau­ti­ful thing. The new film finds Po liv­ing bliss­fully among his fel­low an­thro­po­mor­phic pals in the self­ex­plana­tory Val­ley of Peace. His adopted fa­ther, a goose, re­mains amus­ingly be­fud­dled. The fel­low mem­bers of the Fu­ri­ous Five (mar­tial an­i­mals voiced by the likes of An­gelina Jolie and Jackie Chan) re­main alert to any loom­ing in­cur­sions.

While fight­ing off at­tacks from a horde of killer wolves, Po spots a mys­ti­cal sym­bol and has a flashback – ren­dered in, yes, gor­geous 2D Manga style – of life with his late Panda mother.

It soon tran­spires that an evil peacock named Shen (Gary Old­man) has taken the im­pe­rial throne and, now a mas­ter of gun­pow­der, is seek­ing to com­plete ear­lier-hatched plans to an­ni­hi­late the panda pop­u­la­tion. Soon a full-scale war is afoot. Whole armies march back and forth across the in­creas­ingly crowded screen. Mean­while, Po seeks to dis­cover the se­crets of his mud­dled past.

While the grandiose im­ages ac­cu­mu­late, the orig­i­nal movie’s sense of fun gets in­creas­ingly over­pow­ered by the film-mak­ers’ need to ex­pand their cre­ative pal­ette. It would be un­fair to stress any com­par­isons with the Ma­trix films ( KF2 is never ex­actly bor­ing), but it looks as if, be­fore part three goes into pro­duc­tion, some­body needs to rein­tro­duce a sense of pro­por­tion.

Then again. Kung Fu Panda 2 re­cently man­aged to achieve a re­lease in China. There is a vast au­di­ence out there that will, surely, warm to lav­ish rep­re­sen­ta­tions of its own colour­ful her­itage. Fair enough. But, as Mrs Love­joy fa­mously quipped in The Simp­sons, won’t some­body please think of the chil­dren.

The A team: panda Po leads his crew into ac­tion

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