- - Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Po and the Fabulous Five are back, and they are kung fu fighting in 3-D this time around in “Kung Fu Panda 2,” which stays true to the style and humor of the original as it continues the journey of the unexpected Dragon Warrior.

Having earned respect and renown, Po the panda must now face Lord Shen (voiced by Gary Oldman), a villainous peacock whose minions are scores of ravenous wolves. Lord Shen is on his way to take over all of China and destroy kung fu with a powerful new weapon.

With the very survival of kung fu at stake, the original cast members reprise their roles - with Jack Black as Po, Angelina Jolie as Tigress, Jackie Chan as Monkey and Dustin Hoffman as Po’s Yoda-like kung fu master, Shifu. They are joined here by new masters Croc (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Oxen (Dennis Haysbert).

Like the 2008 original, “Kung Fu Panda 2” is full of humorous one-liners (mostly courtesy of Mr. Black’s Po) and fast-action fight sequences. This being a cartoon, characters are able to pull off death-defying stunts and take balls of fire to the gut, all without sustaining a scar. Good thing, since as Lord Shen notes, “Scars don’t heal.”

Writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger develop a sequel that smoothly picks up the original story and continues the adventure without repeating old gags. But audiences will be relieved to see some essential elements have not changed. Although Po’s now a world-famous warrior, he has not lost his love for dumplings and thus is still no match for Tigress’ “hard-core” kung fu.

The use of 3-D in “Kung Fu Panda 2” is an improvement on the flatter original, allowing the audience to take in the landscape and architecture of the Valley of Peace and beyond to all of digital China. Much like its cuddly panda hero, however, the film at times gets dragged down by its softer side. Po, on a search for true purpose, sets off to tackle inner peace, which Master Shifu has admonished him is the greatest lesson of kung fu.

Along the way, Po is plagued by questions regarding his mysterious past: Could Mr. Ping, the noodle-chef goose, really be his dad? Still, the valuable lessons the panda warrior gleans along the way (hard beginnings can turn out for good in the end) are great for audiences of all ages, even if the introspective is occasionally out of step with the ridiculous.

★★★

TITLE: “Kung Fu Panda 2”

CREDITS: Directed by Jennifer Yuh; written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger

RATING: PG for martial arts sequences and mild violence

RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS