Let's face it: Jack Black is perfectly cast as Kung Fu Panda 2's portly, animated panda Po, the Dragon Warrior who keeps the peace in the Valley of Peace with the help of his comrades, the Furious Five. The enthusiasm Black brings to the character's line readings injects just the right amount of gusto, immaturity, humor and pathos into this animated kids' action tale.
In this second installment in DreamWorks' non-Shrek franchise, Po has mastered the martial arts and is now tasked with finding inner peace. During a moment of battle, Po notices a symbol that prompts a repressed memory of his infancy, which in turn causes him to question his parentage and where he comes from. Can the silly goose (James Hong) who raised him really be his father?
Po learns that he was adopted, and the evil peacock Lord Shen (Gary Oldman, in his finest sneering mode) is the cause of his separation from his biological parents. This beautifully illustrated peacock is intent on destroying kung fu with his deadlier cannon firepower. To this end, Shen raids Chinese villages for their metals, leaving swaths of destruction in his wake. Po and the Furious Five counter Shen's evil plans with a barrage of martial artistry, and accepting the repressed memory of his origins leads Po toward inner peace. (More to come on that subject is intimated for the series' chapter three.)
Director Jennifer Yuh makes the film something quite elegant and lovely to look at, dominated by a distinctly Chinese design motif. The Furious Five (voiced by Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lucy Liu and David Cross) add some enjoyable touches, but still remain mostly a background chorus to Po's leadership.
Kung Fu Panda 2 offers nothing to tantalize adult viewers in terms of delivering quips and double meanings beyond the understanding of their kid companions. But kids are bound to get a kick out of these kung fu creatures.