There's a sort of zen-like tranquility to 2008's Kung Fu Panda. From roly-poly panda Po's constant noodle noshing to the gorgeously rendered landscapes, the movie travels a relatively peaceful path not usually found in CGI summer blowouts that come with their own Happy Meal toys. But there's also all the kung-fu fighting and Po's 10-ain't-loud-enough way of communicating, which may be more roly-poly actor Jack Black's contribution to the character than how he was originally written.
There's not nearly as much quiet time in the occasionally disjointed Kung Fu Panda 2. There are some moments of reflection — for starters, Po finally finds out that the goose he's been calling Dad isn't his real father — but there's just as much butt-kicking with Po and his pals.
The Furious Five are back: Tigress (voiced by Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Crane (David Cross), and Viper (Lucy Liu). So is Dustin Hoffman as the crew's spiritual leader. But as in the first Kung Fu Panda, we never learn much about these characters beyond what a glance at their names reveals. Of course Tigress is superfast, and yes, Mantis can jump pretty far.
That leaves us with the story, and there isn't much here. The bad guy this time is an evil peacock with ties to Po's past, Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), whose plan to take over China involves a fire-spewing, kung fu-stopping weapon. Po moves a little more nimbly this time around, exhibiting the grace and style he picked up at the end of the first movie. But Kung Fu Panda 2 is at its best during the reflective scenes — Po with his dad, Po coming to terms with his past, and Po seeking inner peace. (Don't worry — he's still equally interested in stuffing his face.)
Like the original movie, Kung Fu Panda 2 avoids annoying pop-culture references, guaranteeing a longer shelf life than, say, the last Shrek. But there are plenty of scenes with the boring Furious Five and inside the villain's lair that keep us away from the more interesting stuff, like Po's backstory. This is a sequel with one eye on the bottom line, and the quickest way to get there is with flashy action sequences that show off the obligatory 3-D.
In the end, Kung Fu Panda 2 doesn't quite reach the level of serenity Po eventually attains. There are some great-looking and funny scenes here, but by trying to be two different movies — a summer extravaganza and a more reflective piece — its focus gets scattered. It's tough to maintain a sense of rhythm with all this juggling. Hopefully the third movie (yep, there's gonna be another one) will find some inner peace.