"Panda 2" picks up where the original let off. In the first flick, Po (Jack Black's voice) rose to the top of the Kung-Fu ladder; in this sequel he now faces three challenges: learning how to achieve inner peace with a little help from his master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), while facing a fight-to-the-finish onslaught from arch enemy white peacock Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), at the same time finding a need to learn about his origins. His cohorts (Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, David Cross) are back again, but pretty much relegated to less important roles as the Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger script primarily focuses on Po and his quests. That's a weakness here, since Po is reduced to Jack Black-type humor (heavy on bravado followed up by one blunder after another, until the end in which the obligatory massive combat brings success) - he's great when he's inspired, less so when he lets down.
Black's talent for nuanced delivery - a blend of bravado and inadequacy - is foremost, and actually quite charming. Shifu asks if he's willing to die to find the truth, he blurts, "You bet I am (pause, then), though I'd prefer not to." He becomes almost tenderly emotional when he finally discovers his true beginnings, saying, "It's not who you are, but who you choose to be," and the message of both the film and his life are complete.
Jennifer Yu, familiar with animated movies, but new to this one, does a creditable job in almost clarifying, sorting out, defining each hectic moment in a complicated plot that goes in so many directions, but have no fear, the triple quest is finally resolved after the obligatory massive battle to the finish.
However the plot goes, and however charming Black is, it is the animation that takes credit for sustained interest; the visuals are tops - exotic Chinese settings, realistic textures, brilliant colors, and highly detailed creatures and architecture - most of which, unfortunately, were left undiscovered by kids, who came to life only with the hyper actions; otherwise, the aisles were run constantly for snacks. The little girl in my row trampled me four times for her refills during this 90-minute show. I might mention that the soft glow from their electronic devices kept other kiddies occupied during the slow-paced, emotion-soaked moments.
For me, the plot fades to the background while the stunning visual beauty and, occasionally, Black's shaded deliveries come to the fore. (Grade: B)