PREPARE for the return of awesomeness in Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s energetic martial arts comedy which kicks computer-animated butt and comes close to matching the rumbustious fun of the 2008 original.
Screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger flashback to overweight panda Po’s tortured past as the inspiration for this tale of identity and retribution, taking the story into far darker territory.
However, Jack Black’s whirlwind vocal performance provides a generous smattering of belly laughs and the visuals are gorgeous and colourful, notably in the frenetic set pieces which punctuate the narrative.
The introduction of the 3D format almost warrants the additional ticket price, adding depth to the gorgeous rolling landscapes of ancient China replete with bamboo forests and ornate palaces.
Younger audiences will get just as much fun though from the traditional 2D version without the discomfort or distraction of the plastic spectacles.
Overweight panda Po (voiced by Black) is living his dream as an all-action bear, honing his skills under the watchful eye of mentor Shifu (Dustin Hoffman).
However, he is haunted by fragmented memories, which eventually reveal how his father came to be a goose called Mr Ping (James Wong).
It transpires that an evil peacock Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) is the cause of Po’s deep emotional wounds.
Spurred on by a dire warning about pandas from an elderly soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh), Shen and his army of snarling wolves are on a collision course with Po, armed with a deadly weapon that could bring China to its knees.
Thankfully, Po can always rely on The Furious Five – Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Tigress (Angelina Jolie) and Viper (Lucy Liu) – to avert disaster.
Kung Fu Panda 2 doesn’t quite soar to the dizzy heights of DreamWorks’ last animated feature, How To Train Your Dragon, but Yuh Nelson’s film plays to its strengths.
The sequel relies heavily on Black to unleash his verbal fireworks and to continue sparking potential romance with Jolie’s kung fu kitty.
Hoffman’s comic timing is impeccable and Oldman delivers his lines in suitably Machiavellian tones.
The action sequences are bigger and more complex but still fall short of the intricacy of Pixar’s most recent pictures.
Hopefully DreamWorks Animation will have learned lessons about animated sequels from Shrek, which dazzled us in its original incarnation but became a creatively empty husk by yesteryear’s Shrek Forever After.
Alas, the feel good revelations at the end of Kung Fu Panda 2 suggest that as long as box office tills ring, there will be more chapters in Po’s journey of self-discovery.
Having achieved inner peace in this instalment, expect Kung Fu Panda 3 to tackle global child obesity by having its rotund hero achieve outer peace through a crash diet.