There was something about the first Kung Fu Panda movie that just immediately grabbed you: The bungling panda with the warrior heart might have been a slapstick character, but he still managed to creep deeply into our hearts – and a sequel was all but a foregone conclusion.
So big was the success of the first film in fact that the risk of disappointment was a very real possibility. As a result DreamWorks Animation played it safe by sticking to the recipe: splendid visuals, larger than life buffoon-like characters, and plenty of slapstick humour.
The problem that crept in though is the lack of depth – the storyline is pretty thin, the arch villain Lord Shen is just a little too neurotic to take seriously (the first film's Tai Lung was a much more believable villain), and instead of the unpredictable laugh-out-loud moments of the first film, we are now treated to giggles, albeit spread evenly throughout the movie at least.
Kung Fu Panda 2 delves a little deeper into the back story of Po, revealing where he came from and how he ended up with a stork as a father (you gotta love these subtle jokes).
The Po of the second film is a much more serious panda – he still has plenty of bungling moments, but at the heart of it he is less flab and more rock. This both works and does not – on the one hand it makes sense that the character develops since becoming the Dragon Warrior, but on the other hand one cannot help but miss the Po of the first film.
Jack Black, of course, continues to be excellent as the voice of The Flab One and stands out head-above-shoulders from the rest of the ensemble.
The one area in which Kung Fu Panda 2 absolutely blows you away, however, is the visuals. In fact, in the tightly fought world of animation, it is perhaps only Rango that looks better than this.
What is particularly impressive is the excellent use of lighting – shadows, sun glows on characters, firework explosions... they all have a detailed edge to them that is simply astounding.
In the end one's disappointment with the film is more to do with having hoped for an exponentially better film than with its actual merits (funny how we always expect sequels to blow the original out of the water) but the truth is Kung Fu Panda 2 is not worse than its predecessor, just different.
Deleted scenes: these are merely pencil-sketch animations, which can safely be ignored.
Trailer: of the film [yawn].
Behind the scenes look at the cast: not nearly as entertaining as hiding them behind animated characters.
Teaser reel: of DreamWorks' most well-known animated films [yawn].