Greatest animated movie of all time: ‘Kung Fu Panda 2’

By Brady Small | LTVN Reporter/Anchor

A perfect sequel to elevate an amazing movie.

When it comes to sequels, it’s usually hit or miss.

All-time favorite hits include “The Godfather Part II,” “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back,” “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” and “Toy Story 2.”

There is no short supply of misses: “Ghostbusters II,” “The Matrix Reloaded,” “Speed 2: Cruise Control,” “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet.”

Let’s be clear. “Kung Fu Panda 2” is one of the hits. I even make the argument that it not only surpasses the greatness of the first one but also is the greatest animated movie of all time.

It may not be rated as highly on IMDb as other animated movies like “Spirited Away” and “My Neighbor Totoro” or other movies like “Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse” and “The Lion King.”

However, I believe “Kung Fu Panda 2” is greater than all of them.

We leave the first “Kung Fu Panda” with Po barely learning kung fu, only defeating Tai Lung with the Wuxi finger hold. The first movie barely scratches the surface of the dangers of kung fu. The thought that a character could die wasn’t even on the table.

“Kung Fu Panda 2” doesn’t begin with the story of the protagonist, Po, but rather with the origin story of Lord Shen, the antagonist. We are quickly introduced to the severity of Lord Shen’s actions as the audience learns he is the reason for the genocide of the pandas.

The killing of the pandas is the first introduction to death in the “Kung Fu Panda” trilogy. The first movie never explained why Po was the only panda; it was just a funny bit that his dad was a goose. Through the introduction of death, the audience discovers the characters are not invincible.

We are shown Po’s training arc as he attempts to learn inner peace — a common theme in the trilogy — from Master Shifu. Throughout the adventure, Po begins to experience what can only be explained as PTSD. Whenever he sees Lord Shen’s symbol, he begins to remember what happened to the pandas.

This is where his character development begins.

After a fight with Lord Shen, Po, who has never been seriously injured, gets blasted in the chest by one of Lord Shen’s cannons and is presumed dead.

It is only when he wakes up in the destroyed panda village that he remembers what exactly happened to his family. He transforms from a panda just doing kung fu and idolizing the Furious Five into a kung fu master in order to help those in need and avenge the pandas that Lord Shen killed.

Throughout the movie, Po has been unable to fight Lord Shen, but he overcomes the fear, and his fear is replaced with courage. In the final fight, Po once again looks down the barrel of the cannon that almost killed him earlier. He controls his breathing and deflects the cannonball and multiple others, defeating Lord Shen’s army.

The reflection of the cannonballs and the defeat of Lord Shen’s army signify not only Po’s mastery of inner peace but also the overcoming of his tragic past.

When I claim this is my favorite animated movie, I get weird reactions. I judge movies on character development, a balance of seriousness and humor, plot and message. This movie has it all.

I found myself laughing at every turn but feeling emotional as well. It’s evident Po went through some serious character development, and the message of overcoming your past is clearly demonstrated.

There are so many amazing things about the movie besides what I just mentioned: a great villain, side characters and perfect casting for the voice actors. Come on — Jack Black as Po might be one of the best casting decisions of all time.

This movie is nostalgic and checks every box I have on being a fantastic work of art.