Kung Fu Panda 2

After the Samsung reviewers' workshop at DreamWorks Animation last week (see my report here), we were treated to a preview screening of Kung Fu Panda 2 in 3D. However, we were instructed not to publish anything about the movie until it opened on May 26—that is, today.

The screening took place in DreamWorks Animation's 150-seat Campanile Theater. The Stewart UltraMatte 150 cinema-perfed screen measures 29x13 feet with a gain of 1.5, and because it's a white screen, the Dolby 3D system was used with a Barco DP-3000 2K digital-cinema projector. The soundtrack was Dolby 7.1, and I'm happy to report it wasn't too loud.

The movie continues the saga of Po the ever-hungry panda (voiced by Jack Black), now a kung fu master known as the Dragon Warrior, and his cohorts, Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), Mantis (Seth Rogen), and Crane (David Cross), all students of Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). I have a beef with the name of Hoffman's character—"Shifu" is not a name, but a title that translates to "master." So he's actually Master Master! It's like "the La Brea tar pits" in Los Angeles, which translates from Spanish to "the the tar tar pits."

In this adventure, Po and the Furious Five defend the realm against the evil Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), outcast heir to the Peacock Throne who has developed a terrible technology capable of defeating kung fu itself. Along the way, Po learns the heart-wrenching secret of his heritage, which had been kept from him by his adoptive father Mr. Ping (James Hong). You'd think Po might have guessed that a crane couldn't be his real father, but he was too busy eating Mr. Ping's noodles to notice.

The main story is a straightforward and predictable battle of good versus evil with too much non-stop fighting for my taste, though the subplot about Po's early childhood is touching. In any event, it doesn't measure up to the original Kung Fu Panda, a classic tale of overcoming insurmountable obstacles to realize one's true potential along with a heartfelt look at father/son relationships—and a foreshadowing of the sequel's revelation about Po's parentage. There's even a little existentialism and something like a Zen koan—"The secret ingredient is no secret ingredient at all!" How cool is that?

Still, Kung Fu Panda 2 offers lots of laughs and superb voice acting, and the animation is second to none, with gorgeous colors and exquisite detail. Also, I've never seen better 3D—very well-integrated with virtually no discontinuities in moving objects and few gratuitous, gimmicky shots. And while there's lots of fast action, almost none of it happens in the far foreground. This is going to be a 3D Blu-ray full of awesomeness!

As a side note, the original Kung Fu Panda was released in 2D, both theatrically and on Blu-ray, but it includes many shots that would rock in 3D. Since it's relatively easy to convert 2D animation, I hope DreamWorks re-releases KFP with a "z" axis.

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