Everybody is kung fu fighting…again. Po the panda (Black) and his fellow animal warriors return to save China from destruction and fill the DreamWorks coffers to brimming in this colorful 3-D continuation of Kung Fu Panda. Expanding on one of the first film’s throwaway sight gags (Po’s father is a noodle-selling goose), this follow-up reveals that our husky hero is indeed adopted. It turns out the evil peacock Lord Shen (Oldman) destroyed the Panda kingdom after a soothsaying sheep foretold Shen’s demise. Po was the only survivor, and now he’s having distressing flashbacks to the massacre, which is putting a major crimp in his butt-kicking.
Our protagonist’s diminutive master, Shifu (Hoffman), insists his pupil find “inner peace,” preferably before Shen destroys the land with his large supply of dragon-headed cannons. The plot, truth be told, is as galumphing as Po; even his kiss-off motto, “Skadoosh!,” is shoehorned in like “Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker!” to the Die Hard sequels. Fortunately, the animation is always jazzy, especially some dazzling dream sequences—one involves a radish schooled in the martial arts—that seem indebted to Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack. And though the voice performances schizophrenically range from inspired (Oldman can hiss “We meet at last!” with the best of them) to paycheck-cashing (Jackie Chan’s nondescript Monkey), the influence of creative consultant Guillermo del Toro can be felt in several of the story’s more distressing turns. Po even has a Bambi’s-mother moment that’s considerably grim and scarring. For an animation studio that too often specializes in the frivolous and glib (begone, Shrek series!), the move to the dark side is refreshing.