Review: Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

Synopsis: Po (Jack Black) the chop-sockey panda, returns for a new adventure, this time taking on evil Lord Shen (Oldman): a formidable enemy with a nasty secret weapon. Po is joined by his old buddies – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Monkey (Jackie Chan) – to protect the Valley of Peace.

Kung Fu Panda 2, the sequel to Dreamworks Animations’ heavily buzzed about Kung Fu Panda, is a wondrous equal to its perfectly enjoyable predecessor – if not slightly more sophisticated and well-rounded. The comedy, story and voice-work have all been upped in an attempt to combat sequel fatigue and, to the films merit, everyone pulls it off in a charmingly buoyant manner.

The script, penned by returning screenwriters Glenn Berger and Jonathan Aibel, is wonderfully paced, and a marked improvement on the original. Not only are Berger and Aibel able to strike the perfect balance between Po and the Furious Five’s quest to stop Lord Shen’s and Po’s heartbreaking discovery of his adoption, but they heighten the enjoyment factor with lampoonery, exhilarating action and the inclusion of an inspired kung fu-esque score by John Powell and Hans Zimmer. It’s not an easy task to alternate between the heaviness of characters lost childhood and spritely adventure, but Kung Fu Panda hits the nail on the head, exquisitely weaving the two strands together in a near seamless manner.

Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson oversees with a keen eye and indisputable zing that ensures Kung Fu Panda 2 preserves the marvellous spark and sheer gaiety that made the original so popular. A snappy pace and scenes that are choreographed with a distinct level of creativity – most notably the anime-infused flashback scenes revealing Po’s psychologically disturbed childhood and the hilarious Pac Man-esque chase sequence through Gongmen city – wholly infuse the film with an overarching fun disposition, and ensure the animation is as visually interesting and detailed as physically possible. The fact that Guillermo Del Toro acted as creative consultant shines through and indicates how dedicated Dreamworks Animation were to making a worthy sequel.

The film might boast first-rate animation and a refined script, but it’s the star-spangled voice-work that makes each and every madcap character stand out from the crowd and feel as integral as the last that is the films true prize. Black, in particular, gives a top-notch as the burgeoning Po, and is the ultimate heart and soul of the film. His personality has become so suffused with that of Po’s that it’s hard to think of them as two separate entities. Hoffman, Jolie and Rogen stand out amongst the supporting cast, each injecting the necessary laughs, thrills and enterprise into their roles.

It is, however, the new additions that steal the film. Oldman delivers a necessarily, and utterly convincingly level of menace as Lord Shen, while Yeoh and – try not to laugh – even Jean Claude Van Damme fit perfectly in their roles as Soothsayer and Master Croc, proving their worth as befitting additions to the already bountifully capable cast.

Kung Fu Panda 2 works not only as marvellous family entertainment, but also as an innovative and fervid animation spectacle, intercut with heartwarming revelations, thrilling action, skilful comedy, superlative voice-work, and a soaring soundtrack to boot. It’s a film for all ages, and one that unquestionably deserves to be cherished and enjoyed as much, if not more, than the first.

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Review: Rio (2011)

Rio is the latest animation film from Blue Sky Studios, and features the voice talents of Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, George Lopez, Jemaine Clement, Leslie Mann and Jamie Foxx.

The film centers on Blu (Jesse Eisenberg), a domesticated macaw from small-town Minnesota, who, when he meets the fiercely independent Jewel (Anne Hathaway), takes off on an adventure to Rio de Janeiro with this bird of his dreams.

The peppy, action-packed and convivial screenplay – aside from struggling to sustain the party atmosphere to the end, and falling foul to the well-trodden romantic chase caper, and the trademark slapstick gags – combines charm, thrills, laughs and romance to admirable, sweet avail. It’s not overly complicated, and may feel a tad strained at times, but the approach is sharp enough to keep you entertained throughout.

The characters, including the humans, are under-developed and, no matter how top-notch the voice acting is, the dialogue feels too conventional and flaky to capture audiences attention like other, braver, animation films.

There is, however, one exception. Clement, who voices Nigel, a red-eyed cockatoo, steals every scene he’s in, even delivering a hilarious yet equally fearsome performance as the central villain.

In a technical sense, Rio is simply exquisite, with director Carlos Saldanha ensuring every scene twinkles with a remarkably high level of attention-to-detail. The 3D is crisp, richly attained with a tremendous depth of field, accentuating the glorious, picturesque scenery and wonderfully buoyant animation, and never feeling unnecessary.

The music, ranging from John Powell’s score to original songs by Taio Cruz and will.i.am, was tempestuous, but not always as soaring as you’d expect.

Rio may not be hugely original, and certainly has its share of flaws, but it has a refreshingly light, entertaining feel to it that, in addition to the superb animation and energetic voice acting, should leave you beaming from cheek to cheek.