A cartoon sequel that displays surprising artistic depth while wallowing in a predictable and somewhat shallow plot, Panda II survives on its quirky humor and something for everyone approach.
The story itself is nothing new; the search for one's true self and identity - which is pretty deep for the kiddies - and in the end offers up a feel good moment that it is in the everyday acts that ones' self is revealed (found that in a fortune cookie). However.... Every film needs a baddy to drive the action, and here, as with the rest of the film, we have a conundrum. Lord Shen, a peacock voiced by Gary Oldman, is a wonder to watch - his fluid movements and kung fu using his feathers a true joy - but in trying to instill depth to the character the film stumbles on its own device (something about a soothsayer's warnings of doom - holy Oedipus, where have I heard this before?). The inference that things are pre-ordained prevents this damaged megalomaniac from being more than a James Bond villain - wanting to destroy the world in order to possess it (never really understood that rationale - sorry Ian Flemming).
All sounds pretty deep thus far, yes? But this surprising depth is at distinct odds with the more cartoonish elements involving what may or may not be some kind of budding romance between Panda and Tigress (more like puppy love, but that would really be confusing, right?). Stay tuned for Panda part III for further developments!
Along the way we are witness to some truly wonderful animation - the chase scene via rickshaws far more fun than any live action car chase. Speaking of animation - once again I mention that the art of the film is breathtaking. I did NOT see this in 3D, so the colors I witnessed were wonderfully saturated and brilliant. Even scenes that didn't quite thrill me were still infused with such brilliant art that I was satisfied with viewing them (for example the climactic navel battle scene). In addition the film seamlessly switches idioms from animation to anime and even employs the art of Chinese shadow play.
In conclusion, while the twin story lines of self recognition and save the world from the bad guy may be retreads, there is enough humor and wonderful artwork to satisfy the adult in the audience, while throwing enough action at the youngsters to keep 'em entertained. A solid effort from Dreamworks.