This weekend, I took the kids to a press screening of Kung Fu Panda 2. When the lights turned back up and the popcorn ran out, I came to this inescapable conclusion:
DreamWorks Animation SKG
Panda 2 is nothing like the inspired sequel-crafting of Toy Story 3. Sure, it's a fun romp with some visual wizardry based on traditional Chinese art forms. But the paint-by-numbers script leaves little room for the all-star cast, led by Jack Black and Angelina Jolie, to shine. Grown-ups with adult expectations will leave the theater disappointed, and would be better served by the first Kung Fu Panda. Also, I'd bet a dollar that Walt Disney
Kung Fu Panda was a very workable tentpole film that surely deserved a sequel. The first movie's $215 million in domestic box office came close to matching the $268 million collected by the first Shrek, around which DreamWorks built its fortune. It's also comparable to How to Train Your Dragon and slightly better than Madagascar, both of which are fellow DreamWorks franchise-starters.
DreamWorks Animation chieftain Jeff Katzenberg claims to have a six-film story arc planned for the Panda series and its bumbling hero, Po. So how come this second one felt so haphazardly constructed? There should be epic character-building going on with such a grand plan ahead. Instead, we get cookie-cutter story tropes and a series of undermotivated fight scenes. Hardly the stuff of legend.
That's a stark contrast to Pixar, which pours a ton of soul into tentpoles and sequels alike, or the nearly Pixar-quality hit-making verve of Marvel. The House of Mouse clearly knows how to pick its acquisitions.
That said, I fully expect Kung Fu Panda 2 to make a mint at the box office, motivating at least one more sequel. It's just not the high-quality experience that would make you long for a third installment and line up for opening-day tickets the next time around. A weak episode of a series brings a delayed backlash.
This Panda's position is made all the weaker by last weekend's release of Disney's fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Though one is animated and the other isn't, they largely compete for the same young demographic, not to mention the same high-value 3-D and IMAX
Will Gaylord Entertainment
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