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Kung Fu Panda 2: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011) movie poster Kung Fu Panda 2

Theatrical Release: May 26, 2011 / Running Time: 90 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson / Writers: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger

Voice Cast: Jack Black (Po), Angelina Jolie (Tigress), Dustin Hoffman (Shifu), Gary Oldman (Shen), Jackie Chan (Monkey), Seth Rogen (Mantis), Lucy Liu (Viper), David Cross (Crane), James Hong (Mr. Ping), Michelle Yeoh (Soothsayer), Danny McBride (Wolf Boss), Dennis Haysbert (Master Ox), Jean-Claude Van Damme (Master Croc), Victor Garber (Master Rhino)

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Kung Fu Panda seemed to ring in a new commitment to quality at DreamWorks Animation. Sure, the studio had earned good reviews and sold plenty of tickets before, but the 2008 film reached new heights by each of those standards for something outside the signature Shrek franchise, which had already started its decline.
Panda would cross the $200 million mark domestically and the $600 million mark worldwide, while proudly wearing the badge of overwhelming critical approval. In a weaker year, it might have entered best-of discussions and had a shot at winning the animated feature Oscar. But it had the misfortune of opening just three weeks before Pixar's WALL•E, one of the most acclaimed animated films ever.

Panda actually handily bested WALL•E at the worldwide box office, an achievement significant enough to ensure that DreamWorks would do what they did for all their hits: make a sequel. Adhering to the usual three-year production schedule, Kung Fu Panda 2 opened in theaters around the globe during the industry's summer season, starting with a Memorial Day Weekend debut in the States and parts of Asia. It arrived without the working subtitle it had held (The Kaboom of Doom), but with almost the entire principal cast of animals and their original voice actors back on board.

Po and the legendary Furious Five (left to right, Crane, Tigress, Mantis, Monkey, and Viper) are back in "Kung Fu Panda 2."

The sequel opens with a prologue that tells us of a family of peacocks, whose son Lord Shen sees the destructive capabilities of fireworks as his path to power. Young Shen's efforts to defy a soothsayer's prophecy brought shame to his parents and exile upon himself. This may seem random and unrelated to the first movie, but you can bet it will hold significance.

Po (voiced by Jack Black), the portly panda improbably named the Dragon Warrior, is instructed by his mentor, the wise Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), on the importance of inner peace. For Po, the secret to unlocking such potent tranquility seems to lie in him rediscovering his tumultuous infancy. In the midst of a battle with bandits, the panda gets a stirring glimpse of his youth. Upon telling his father, noodle restaurateur crane Mr. Ping (undersung octogenarian big/small screen legend James Hong, getting a lot of great material here), Po learns that -- gasp! -- he is adopted and that his origins have always been a mystery.

Meanwhile, prologue peacock Shen (Gary Oldman) has returned to Gongmen City and made it his with the unrivaled force of a newly-invented cannon. Po's partners in kung fu, the admired Furious Five -- consisting of Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Crane (David Cross), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Monkey (Jackie Chan) -- join him on a trek to rid Gongmen City of Lord Shen's tyrannical rule and save kung fu in the process.

Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) conveys to Po the importance and power of inner peace. Power-hungry peacock Lord Shen (voiced by Gary Oldman) makes for an imposing new villain.

The first Panda was probably DreamWorks' best-loved effort since the first two Shrek films. I count myself among the original movie's fans, though not as voraciously as some (to put my appreciation into context, I'd rank it about on par with Pixar's second worst movie). And yet, I couldn't say I had much interest in a sequel. The story was self-contained and special, the kind that (like most of Pixar's fare) doesn't beg to be continued. Others must have shared my view, because Panda 2 fell below expectations at the domestic box office. In all fairness, those expectations were very high, with some predicting that the sequel could supply the tall gains that Shrek 2 offered over its predecessor.

Instead, even with ticket price inflation and the premiums of the now-standard 3D exhibitions, Panda 2 grossed $165 million in North America, a full $50 M behind its forebear. That number made it DreamWorks' least-attended summer release since 2003's traditionally-animated flop Sinbad: Legend of the Seas. The drop was more precipitous than the one Pixar's Cars 2 experienced natively but much less steep than the domestic drop-offs that spring's Hoodwinked Too! and now-playing Happy Feet Two were dealt, all despite (or, more likely, because of) higher-priced 3D tickets. Panda 2 still performed better at home than any 2011 animated movie save for Cars 2. And as on that coldly-reviewed sequel, business concerns go out the window from a global perspective. Panda 2 made a staggering 75% of its money outside the US (where 3D has proven a lot more popular) and its $663 M worldwide take not only improves upon the original movie's number, but it tops all but three of this year's biggest sequels.

There's a good chance you're less interested than I am in a movie's commercial reception, but that clearly determines the movies that are made. Going strictly by the local numbers, a third Kung Fu Panda movie might not have been warranted, but when the entire planet is considered, a Kung Fu Panda 3 starts looking especially promising to the DreamWorks brass and stockholders, who have seen the company's price fall 60% since the disappointing release of Shrek Forever After.

Flashbacks from Po's tumultuous infancy offer a choice opportunity for the filmmakers to employ stylish 2D animation. The Furious Five (Mantis, Viper, Tigress, Monkey, and Crane) vote for Po to sit out this adventure.

Would such financial gain have to come at a creative loss? Not, if Kung Fu Panda 2 is any indication.
This sequel is nearly as strong as its predecessor, which also means that it is better than the vast majority of modern film. Though it can't be considered fresh, nor can it be called stale. The film tells its story briskly (credits roll 81 minutes in) and sharply. It boasts handsome visuals and exquisite sound design (right up there with Pixar in both facets). The former includes some tastefully integrated 2D animation

There is more action than some might care for, but battle scenes are nicely countered by heart and humor. Panda 2 is especially successful on the latter front, supplying a number of funny bits, many of them drawing laughs from Po's undeserved self-confidence. Those who bemoan DreamWorks' patent brand of ironic, two-leveled humor can lay no such charges here. As on the even more widely acquitted How to Train Your Dragon, there are no pop culture references to be found. Panda 2 even foregoes the obligatory pop song tie-in, perhaps recognizing nothing could live up to Cee Lo Green's "Kung Fu Fighting" cover from the first movie. Though it does not provide the artistry and emotion imbued in Pixar's best, the film remains entertaining, nimble, and broadly appealing as it upholds the original's spirit without simply recreating its beats.

It can easily be said that Kung Fu Panda 2 doesn't have a story that had to be told (Pixar's usual rationale for avoiding sequels, something they clearly forgot to heed on their one and only dud) and that its plot won't stay with you any longer than the first film's does. But at least it's not the lazy cash-in that its hasty adult Memorial Day weekend competitor The Hangover Part II was. First-time director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, a story artist on the first film and the rare woman given the helm in animation, and returning writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger make sure you're not just getting more of the same or something incompatibly different. And that is enough to put Panda 2 in the top tier of 2011's animated films.

Presenting one of the year's longest waits from theatrical debut to disc, Kung Fu Panda 2 hit stores this week on "Panda 2sDay" in a single-disc DVD, DreamWorks' long-customary double DVD pack, and, the subject of this review, a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack.

Kung Fu Panda: 2-Disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, English DVS)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; Blu-ray Film only: English for Hearing Impaired
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled except for Animators' Corner
Release Date: December 13, 2011 / Suggested Retail Price: $49.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in 1-Disc DVD ($29.99 SRP), Double DVD Pack ($40.99 SRP), Amazon Instant Video, and, with Kung Fu Panda, 2-Disc Blu-ray Collection ($59.99 SRP) and 3-Disc DVD Collection ($42.99 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

To my eyes, Kung Fu Panda 2 on Blu-ray looks like perfection. That's not at all unusual for a brand new computer-animated film treated to a direct digital hi-def transfer, but it is really nice all the same. The 2.40:1 presentation boasts stunning clarity and detail. The default 7.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is equally delightful, engulfing with a spacious and dynamic mix that delivers action and dialogue that feels like it's coming at you not just from speakers, but in real life.

As usual, the DVD offers good 16:9-enhanced picture and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, but both are less than dazzling by comparison to the Blu-ray. It doesn't help that half of the disc space goes to digital copies most will not redeem.

The Wu Sisters, three feared leopards, feature prominently in the new short "Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Masters." The real Chinese mountains adapted for a snowy "Kung Fu Panda 2" locale are discussed in "Animation Inspiration."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

It wouldn't be a DreamWorks home video release without oodles of bonus features.
I don't think any studio outrivals them these days by sheer number of supplements, especially among the CGI powerhouses who tend to believe such films don't warrant such treatment. For once, quality even meets quantity on Kung Fu Panda 2's extras.

First up and highly billed is Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Masters, "an all-new Po adventure." This 23-minute short is presented in full Dolby TrueHD 7.1 sound and with many original voice cast members reprising their roles. Po, Mantis, and Tigress break in for an early look at a new kung fu museum, which inspires Po to tell the story of the three Wu sisters. The feared siblings square off against Rhino, Ox, and Croc. This majority of this is presented in flat 2D animation. It feels like an episode of a TV series, though not the one Kung Fu Panda now has airing on Nickelodeon. It's not something you may have wanted to see, but it's tough not to be awed by the work and creativity the studio puts into these original bonus shorts.

The remaining extras appear under the heading More Awesomeness, which divides them into Blu-ray Exclusives and just plain old Special Features.

The exclusives begin with "Animation Inspiration" (11:04 plus a 30-second director's intro), which profiles eight real Chinese sites that the filmmakers incorporated into Kung Fu Panda 2's location designs with plenty of pertinent film clips.

The Animators' Corner is a picture-in-picture mode which plays crew and cast interviews, storyboard reels and pitches, clips from production and the Chinese research trip, and a tiny bit of footage of commentary remarks over the movie in a quarter-screen window. Any one of those elements would be a tough sell on its own, but weaved together, this makes for a diverting repeat viewing and one that delves deep into the film's creative process. It stops before the long end credits scroll starts.

The final exclusive is a trivia track, which thankfully can be activated in tandem with the PiP track. The graphics will cover that window slightly with their character information, voice cast identifiers, running tally of "inner peace" utterances, and behind-the-scenes quotes.

Po gets more than he bargained for when he agrees to fight his childhood idol Kwan the Unkillable in the "Legends of Awesomeness" episode "Has-Been Hero." Annie-nominated James Hong, the voice of Mr. Ping, gets his due in the featurette "Kickin' It with the Cast."

The non-exclusives begin with a complete episode of "Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness", a sensible item I'm glad DreamWorks wisely thought to include. This Nickelodeon series features impressive production value (full three-dimensional CGI) and quality sound-alike replacements for the movie's voice cast (save for Lucy Liu and James Hong, who commendably reprise Viper and Mr. Ping, but neither featuring in this episode). "Has-Been Hero" (23:50), which has not yet aired or been scheduled, has Po meeting his childhood idol Kwan the Unkillable, who has gotten old and washed-up. Or so it seems until Po agrees to grant him one staged final fight, which is far more of a challenge than anticipated. Meanwhile, the ram's personal assistant pig Bai Li tries to keep Crane away. Though I feel no desire to revisit this universe in regularly-scheduled half-hours, this show is well-done. The episode is presented in HD like all the other Blu-ray video bonus features and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.

"Kickin' It with the Cast" (12:42) is the requisite showcase of the celebrity voice cast. We get the usual and always welcome blend of crew praise for actors, cast comments on characters, and looks at the one day each actor got made up to "record" lines for the cameras. Being a sequel with most of the actors returning, we move through the principal cast quickly and focus a bit more on Gary Oldman, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and the other new additions.

Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson introduces each of the three "Kung Fu Panda 2" deleted scenes. Awww! Look at the cute little baby panda!

Three brief, minor deleted scenes (4:21) are presented in story reel format with introductions by director Jennifer Yuh Nelson. They show Mantis and Crane at a fight club bar, Po chasing after a crow, and Po meeting the Soothsayer in Gongmen City.

"Panda Stories: Inside the World of the Giant Panda" (7:44) turns our attentions from animated pandas to real ones. Footage shows the cute critters at a giant panda breeding base in China, where the crew visited for inspiration, and at a center in Atlanta where Jack Black makes a public appearance.

Keep your eye on the bunny barrel in the three-card monte-inspired "Barrels of Bunnies!" game. Learn how to write and say "soup" in Mandarin in the Ni Hao section.

Kung Fu Shuffle holds two games which do not utilize any special Blu-ray technology. Both are variations on three-card monte. In "Barrels of Bunnies!", you've got to keep your eye on the barrel hiding a young bunny.

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"Baby Po's Great Crate Challenge" asks you to follow the crate holding Baby Po. The games don't seem to get any harder the more you play, making them pretty easy and only moderately fun.

"Ni Hao" teaches you how to say and write 67 KFP2-relevant terms in Mandarin, including "chopsticks", "fuzzy", "I am hungry", "panda", "respect", and "soup" (but, ironically, not "you good"). The pronunciations should automatically play, instead of making you press a button and wait a few seconds, but otherwise this is an impressively thorough basic language tutorial.

Next, there is a filmmakers' audio commentary by director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, producer Melissa Cobb, production designer Raymond Zibach, and supervising animator/kung fu choreographer/story artist Rodolphe Guenoden. This too can be teamed with the trivia track to make the most of your non-narrative repeat viewing. The information aligns and sometimes overlaps, with the commentary being more technical and less kid-oriented. It's still fun, though, as the group observes the visual and narrative components of every scene, regularly noting the effects impossible to achieve just three years earlier.

On-disc items conclude with the World of DreamWorks Animation section, which serves up music videos and commercials for Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, and Megamind. A touch above conventional marketing and a touch below getting original theatrical trailers, you've probably already encountered most of this material and will have no desire to revisit it in the one-at-a-time way it's presented here.

Trailers for Panda 2, which included unique original animation (i.e. Po's staring contest), are disappointingly absent.

Though the digital copy is reasonably available as an Internet download, the DVD offered in this combo pack is still a barebones one holding no bonus features, dubs, or even trailers. The digital copies actually are found on the disc in the way of one iTunes file and two Windows Media ones. Though redundant, that design at least explains why the DVD here is stripped down. It seems like the studios could save authoring time and add more value with the standalone DVD, instead of burning those with foresight but no Blu-ray player.

If you're still content with DVD, the 1-disc edition will get you the commentary, "Kickin' It with the Cast", and the World of DreamWorks Animation section. The Double DVD Pack evidently adds Secrets of the Master, the "Legends of Awesomeness" episode, deleted scenes, "Panda Stories", "Kung Fu Shuffle", "Ni Hao", and apparently exclusive DVD-ROM game "Legend of the Wu Sisters" and printable activities, which were not found on this combo pack's DVD.

Finally, there is Kung Fu Panda World, an online video game for which this combo pack includes two one-month membership codes. No trivial thing, this is an elaborate online experience, in which you pick a style (male or female panda, tiger, or monkey) and then interact with fellow online players.

My new online friend (the gray tigress) and I (the blue tiger) take on Gruul the minotaur in one of many multi-player Kung Fu Panda World adventures. The chat among three new friends gathered around the Jade Palace viewing pool turns to pizza.

You don't need a code to start playing, but eventually you do and redeeming one nets you a month of play. It lets you enter your parent's e-mail address to approve you for safe chatting, the only kind allowed and one which prevents using certain words (i.e. "hardcore"), some punctuation, all numbers, and, for some reason, the word "numbers". There are lots of single and multi-player games and activities to be had. One had me doing battle over the course of many rounds, a slow, boring affair that relies on probabilities, spinning wheels, and strategy.
Another had me and a new virtual friend teaming up to dispose of members of Tai's army. The longer and better you play, the more games you unlock as you rise in rank. I got to 6 in a day and it goes up to at least 21.

I had more fun in the interactions than the games. You move around alongside other bears, monkeys, and tigers, collecting noodles, dumplings, popsicles, and tea for chi points. You can throw water balloons at fellow players or just start dancing on your own. A tigress from Tijuana showed me her house and sang me the lyrics of a Don Omar song and since it's all virtual, I did not at all feel like a predator, even though at one point a moderator inexplicably asked me to make better choices. I can see the appeal to such an online universe, whether played with like-minded real world friends or making fragile, limited new friendships with the unknown. Even ignoring the $72 a year this would cost to play at the monthly rate, I don't know that I would encourage the young to get into such a time-consuming and addictive pastime, but I can definitely see the appeal. Oh, and parents can control what their kids can do, like setting a gameplay schedule, assuming that a parent actually gets listed as the e-mail address needed to approve chatting. Though able to inspire excessive attachment, the experience seems safe, innocuous, and creative enough, though play did freeze for me more than once.

The Blu-ray opens with a promo for DreamWorks' recent Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury & Book of Dragons set and a trailer for Puss in Boots. The menu's "sneak peek" previews the How to Train Your Dragon Arena Spectacular, opening next year. A Previews menu holds these three ads along with ones for "Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness" and the Kung Fu Panda 2 THQ video game.

The Blu-ray menu gives us artistic 2D renderings of Po's origins modeled after the film's opening and closing titles. Inactivity prompts playback. Like other Paramount Blu-rays, this one supports bookmarks, but doesn't resume playback at all after powering down. Per its no-frills design, the DVD gives us silent, static screens in the same style.

The two discs are packed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase, which is topped by a glossy slipcover. Inside, one finds codes for the digital copy, the two Kung Fu Panda World memberships, and a couple of unimpressive Chuck E. Cheese's coupons.

Catching fire in your paw is no big deal for the Dragon Warrior and kung fu panda Po.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though no landmark to which all future DreamWorks films will be measured, Kung Fu Panda 2 is sharp, technically proficient, and plenty entertaining. The movie alone would be recommended viewing, but DreamWorks has given this sequel a dazzling hi-def presentation and packed it with substantial bonus features, including a commentary, a picture-in-picture mode, a new short, a full television episode, and an expansive online game. You might not be able to tell by just looking over the extras list, but this is one of the most fully loaded sets bestowed upon any animated film and should keep you diverted for many hours.

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Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy / 1-Disc DVD / Double DVD Pack / Instant Video
2-Movie Kung Fu Panda Collection: 2-Disc Blu-ray / 3-Disc DVD

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Related Reviews:
New: Dragons: Gift of the Night Fury & Book of Dragons • The Smurfs • Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas Special • The Rocketeer (Blu-ray)
DreamWorks Movies: Kung Fu Panda • Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa • Megamind • Shrek the Third • Bee Movie
DreamWorks TV: Shrek the Halls • Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space • Scared Shrekless • The Penguins of Madagascar: I Was a Penguin Zombie
2011 Animated Movies: Cars 2 • Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil • Rio • Winnie the Pooh • Rango • Gnomeo & Juliet
China: Mulan • Mulan II • The Karate Kid (2010) | Animated Sequel: Toy Story 2 | Jack Black: Gulliver's Travels

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Reviewed December 15, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2011 DreamWorks Animation SKG, Paramount Pictures, and DreamWorks Animation SKG Home Entertainment.
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