Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011): Letting Go of the Past and the Quest for Inner Peace

“Kung Fu Panda 2” is easily the best of the “Kung Fu Panda Trilogy” and of the best animated films out there. This is a film that deals with the themes of trauma, loss and found family as well as giving us some amazing action and character arcs. This film is a favorite and I think shows just how great animated stories can be. So without going into spoilers, this is one I highly recommend.

The film was directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger.

The story follows Po (Jack Black) and the Furious Five when they must stop Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) and his new weapon from conquest.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Opening – We get a great opening with Michelle Yeoh’s Soothsayer saying how Lord Shen used the invention of fireworks to come up with weapons leading to his exile after he heard a prophecy of a black and white warrior defeating him. This lead to his hunting down all pandas and his parents exiling him. After we see him return to Gongmen City, his home an defeating the martial arts masters with his new weapon. The stakes are immediate and we see what is at stake when Lord Shifu gets the message of what has happened and sends Po and the Furious Five to stop Lord Shen.

The Animation – The animation is almost realistic in the forest and some of the city settings with the details of ships looking almost lifelike. It is beautiful and plays into the dark tone of the film.

The Action – The action is great in this with memorable sequences being attacking Lord Shen at the palace and the docks where we see is cannons on full display as well as how great our heroes are against his wolf forces. There are slower moments too that add impact when the action sequences happen.

Wolf Boss – Danny McBride plays Lord Shen’s second-in-command and he is a good threat too as we see him hold his own against Po and how well he works wit his pack. He also isn’t all evil too as when Lord Shen says he should fire on their men to take out the Furious Five and their allies he refuses, leading to Lord Shen killing him.

The Furious Five – The Furious Five get more to do in this and we see how well they work as a team as they shout out tactics they use. They are there for Po in his identity crisis they use and each of them have their moment to shine in fighting Lord Shen or teaching Po in the case of Tigress. I loved them in this.

The Soothsayer – Michelle Yeoh’s Soothsayer is a character full of regret as we see she tries to help Lord Shen let go and heal but can’t though sh is able to help Po heal. We see the regret she feels for sharing the prophecy that lead to the hunting of Pandas and how much she wishes Lord Shen could heal. She is compelling andshines in every scene she is in.

Mr. Ping – Mr. Ping in this shares how he found and adopted Po and we see his arc as at one point he fears that Po has left him forever when Po doesn’t say “I love you” when he says good-bye. It is a heartbreaking scene and I’m glad one of the last scenes is Po returning to say Mr. Ping is his dad. James Hong is once again great and one of the most memorable characters. He never planned to b a dad but embraced it when it happened.

Lord Shen – Gary Oldman plays the best villain in this series. Shen is a villain with so much rage and regret who can’t accept love and it has driven him to hate everything. He is a brilliant inventor but in the end he can’t see anything beyond that which he can take. He is broken and alone and it makes him a fascinating villain. All he has is his ego, pride and resentment. Just like Tai Lung.

Po – Po’s arc is powerful in this as he figures out who he is as he never new his biological parents (though we see his dad survived Lord Shen and his wolves at the end) and his need to know puts the Furious Five at risks. He becomes driven for outside validation like Lord Shen and Tai Lung until he remembers his past and his mother saving him during his time with the Soothsayer. It is a powerful arc and with Inner Peace he is able to free his friends and defeat Lord Shen and his forces.

How the Past Can Consume – Lord Shen and Po are both consumed by feeling abandoned by their parents (for different reasons) and this leads to them acting out and ignoring those who care for them. Shen only has his hat and rage and Po only in accepting himself realizes the friends and family he has, finding peace in the present. They are contrasted in the message of the film.

Found and Created Family – Master Shifu, the Furious Five, Mr. Ping these are Po’s found family and it takes him nearly dying to realize it as he comes to understand that he may not have the family who saved him but he has a family who love him. These relationships illustrate why this Trilogy is one of my favorites.

This is the best film in the Trilogy and one of the best animated films out there. It has so many characters and they all have a chance to be amazing and nuanced. I love this film and each time I return to it I notice something new. I highly recommend this film and of course the Trilogy as a whole.

Final Score: 10 / 10

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