Kung Fu Panda 2 improbably dodged a bullet, somehow finding another satisfying story in a character who should have lost all his charm with the acquisition of power at the end of the original Kung Fu Panda. But DreamWorks couldn’t resist going to the well again, and so Dragon Warrior Po (Jack Black), newly designated by Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) as his successor, returns to battle a powerful supernatural menace (J. K. Simmons) continuing a centuries-long, across-spiritual-planes battle with Po’s one-time mentor Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim). Additional emotional resonance comes in Po’s re-introduction to the panda community—including the birth father (Bryan Cranston) he’d believed to be dead—while returning Kung Fu Panda 2 director Jennifer Yuh Nelson guides action sequences that mix energetic choreography with often-dazzling visual design. But Black’s Po feels unfocused, rarely tapping into the earnest silliness that made him so much fun in the previous two films. All that’s left is for him to learn the same lesson in self-confidence that he’s already learned twice before, with instantly diminishing returns.
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