I went to see Dreamworks‘ Kung Fu Panda 2 (in regular 2-D, not the 3-D version) the other day. I won’t do a review, because it is straight forward – you either liked the first one, and will see this regardless, or hated the first one and won’t see it regardless. I want to discuss a part of the film that has been understated by the critics – the flashback sequences.
To me, the best part of KFP2 is the hand drawn animated sequences representing Po’s childhood. This is a golden opportunity for Dreamworks to bring back and dominate the hand drawn animation studio market. Not just domestically, but globally as well. Instead of competing, and falling behind in the CGI animation field with Pixar and Industrial Light & Magic, (their first feature film, Rango, is superior to every Dreamworks animated feature), they can go head-to-head with Studio Ghibli. I understand that the entire point was to create a clear contrast between the past and (Po’s) present time, but in terms of overall execution, the results are even more glaring. Like I said, I don’t know how it looks in 3-D, but the storyboarding for the hand drawn sequences are better because they don’t try to emphasize 3-D. It appears that every CGI scene was created in order to get from one 3-D effect to another, while the hand drawn scenes placed their emphasis on storytelling.
The other part of the hand drawn scenes I found fascinating is how they do not show any violence on-screen. It is safe to assume that Steven Spielberg would never approve of such a thing, (a point lampshaded on an episode of Animaniacs). There are heavy implications that intense violence (beyond the choreographed kung fu punching and kicking) is occurring or about to occur off-screen. Yet it is never seen, and it is left to our minds to paint those pictures if we wish. It is a marvelous piece of directing. The last time such a skill was wonderfully executed was the first season of Batman: The Animated Series, produced by Bruce Timm. Sometimes, less is more, which is a lesson often forgotten by 3-D movie directors.
Based on the very last scene, it does seem that there will be a KFP3 down the road. And hopefully, there will be more hand drawn animated sequences. I may as well give a grade, while I’m writing this. The hand drawn animation bumps up my score one notch, so I give KFP2 a nice and enjoyable B.