Precious few sequels exceed the quality of their predecessors, but a more emotionally resonant story, coupled with the usual assortment of gags, makes Kung Fu Panda 2 one of the exceptions to the rule.
Newly minted kung fu master Po, now slightly less obese though still obsessed with food, and his five kung fu comrades have to face off against an evil peacock (yes, peacock) who is threatening China with his newly developed application of gunpowder for cannons.
In a fight with the peacock's lupine minions, Po has a flashback to his infancy that makes him question whether the goose who raised him is his true father. (The first film would have the viewer believe that there was nothing questionable about a goose siring a panda.) Po's ensuing identity crisis ends up giving him added incentive to seek out the peacock, who may hold clues to the fate of Po's real parents.
Gluttonous jokes abound in this entertaining family film (rated PG for martial arts action and mild violence), but what drives the story are several characters' pursuit of "inner peace." The means of achieving inner peace in this film's universe is definitely Taoist-oriented and leans toward humanism (if one can apply that word to a film populated with pandas, peacocks, geese, and wolves). That being said, the film also contains important messages about not letting an inauspicious background negatively influence one's present and future actions.
A wealth of A-list vocal talent bolsters the film's stunning visuals, which are very impressive in 3D. Jack Black returns as Po, as do Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, and Dustin Hoffman as Po's kung fu comrades. Gary Oldman adds sophisticated malevolence to his turn as the tormented and dangerous peacock Shen.
Though a watered-down Taoist philosophy permeates the film, the family dramas at the core of Kung Fu Panda 2 succeed in providing an engaging and surprisingly effective viewing experience, as long as one can separate the yin from the yang.