Million Dollar Arm
Struggling sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) has the idea to launch a reality TV contest in India that offers contestants the chance to land a Major League Baseball contract
Po (Jack Black) and friends must defeat evil tyrant peacock Shen (Gary Oldman) who wants to rule China and wipe out the art of kung fu
Following up on 2008's box office hit Kung Fu Panda, this sequel doesn't tamper with the popular formula of the first: it's still all about believing in yourself and following your dreams, with an added helping of inner peace. Like the 2008 entry, the film opens with a beautifully realised prologue that suggests a technicolor Lotte Reiniger animation, with intricate silhouetted characters setting up a prophesy that Herod-esque peacock Shen (Gary Oldman) will be defeated by a black and white warrior.
This black and white warrior is of course Po (Jack Black), the slightly dim but good-natured kung fu warrior panda of the title. Prologue aside, the story is as cliche as they come, and like so many Dreamworks animations (Megamind, Bee Movie, Madagascar, A Shark's Tale), the characters somehow aren't quite 'there'. Po's friends, The Furious Five - Viper, Mantis, Crane, Monkey and Tigress - simply don't make the same impression as the secondary characters from, say, Toy Story, or, longer ago, Beauty And The Beast. Even the cuddly baby edition of Po seen in flashback seems a little calculatedly cute, and despite the fact we're used to hearing these animals speak with human voices, it's definitely weird to hear a human baby's crying and gurgling coming out of a panda cub's mouth.
Perhaps it's a little unfair to compare Kung Fu Panda 2 to undoubted landmarks like Toy Story. Dreamworks' animators can certainly be praised for the lush landscapes they've created for Po and co - sweeping lakes, misty mountains and sunrises over the sea are all lovingly rendered with an aesthetic charm the character animation lacks.
As with many stories aimed at children, the villain is the plum part here, and Gary Oldman as evil peacock Shen knows it. Moving with the menacing Velociraptor's gait of The Dark Crystal's terrifying Skeksis, the film only really comes alive when he's around with the result that adults may find themselves agreeing when he hisses at Po: "I find your stupidity mildly amusing."
The odd amusing line doesn't stop this being pretty bland stuff, but it should keep younger viewers occupied.
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