Kung Fu Panda 2 Blu-ray Review
The disc presents a theatrically correct widescreen 2.35:1 1080p transfer using the AVC MPEG4 codec and is Region free. As has become the custom with CG animated movies held in the digital realm, the picture is clear reference quality. It is bright, bold and vibrant with breathtaking clarity and immense depth; everything you’d expect with an animation company at the top of their game.
Detail is incredible, this is as true for the epic background layouts which showcase tree-lined mountainous terrains, vast city-scapes or glorious sunsets shrouded in mist, as it is for close up detail seen in Mr Ping’s noodle shop, the paved streets and wooden buildings of the city or the fur of the main characters, which deserves special mention – look close at Po’s fur, it's not simply black and white, but all shades – and better yet the difference between wet and dry! When Tigress drags Po out of the water at the end, look at the detail in their fur, the water’s surface and the etched and singed wood that they clamber on – this really is demo material.
Colours are bold and lush, vibrant and strong – all the primaries coming off with aplomb. The greens of the grasslands or forestry, the blues of the skies and water, the reds of the villages, fireworks and smelting pots; all are stunningly represented with no hint of wash or bleed and all with perfect gradation.
Brightness and contrast are set to give sublime blacks that not only give added depth to the frame but add to the overall vibrancy of the picture. Shadow detail is well defined, when animated as such, really sinking into the frame, look at Shen’s factory for some excellent examples.
Digitally there are no compression problems nor is there any edge enhancement, being digital there is no grain either, and, as I’ve already mentioned, there are no banding or posterization issues either. It is clearly a reference picture, and contains the depth of colour and lighting associated with Toy Story 3 or How to Train your Dragon, putting it above its illustrious forbearer.
I concentrate on the English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surround track. The original film had a stunning sound mix, the ‘skadoosh’ moment being a reference point for subs worldwide. This mix follows on in being just as refined and equally as bombastic. There are plenty of action scenes that utilise all the speakers following the action on screen to a tee, such as the wolf attack on the village or the rickshaw chase, where the effects are myriad coming across from front to back and left to right to really swallow you into the sound mix, that is excellent in the bombast stakes, but it is the finesse at the top end that really hold the attention; the rickshaw chase is a perfect example, the rattling of the wooden wheels on the uneven paving underpinning the everything while the music and effects surround the room. If there was any doubt about the quality of this mix, this film’s ‘skadoosh’ moment firmly plants it in the reference category – it's not quite as refined or as ‘clean’ as the original film, but then the scene isn’t either, what it does have is a window shattering, foundation sinking thump that whooshes past you, followed by an explosion of epic proportions – made me smile anyway.
Dialogue is clear and precise, never in any danger of being drowned out by the action on screen and given a little directionality when needed. Effects are pin point accurate and follow the on screen action. Bass is deep and strong though doesn’t go as deep as the original, save the ‘skadoosh’ moment, but there is plenty to keep the sub happy. The score helps fill the room and in all this is a worthy mix.
- Animation Inspiration (11.04, HD) – An interactive map (that has a play all function) of China which guides you through the various places the production crew visited to help inspire their artistic choices for the film. There are eight in total: Panda village, Gongmen City, Musicians Village, Valley of Peace, Valley of Peace town, Journey across China, Tower of the Sacred Flame and the Harbour.
- Animators Corner – Is a picture in picture commentary that encompasses everything you need to know about the making of the film from the animator’s perspective, though there are also plenty of interviews with the director, producers and the main cast. The box plays in the bottom right of the screen and is constantly showing something, be it storyboards, animatics, or rough sketches, when it is not showing the ‘main’ content.
- Trivia Track – What the name implies, a constant stream of trivia pops up on screen to tell you many different aspects of the production, Chinese history, radish score, fascinating facts etc. all of which is surprisingly unique compared to the other content on the disc.
- Audio Commentary – With director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, producer Melissa Cobb, production designer Raymond Zibach and supervising animator, Kung Fu choreographer and story artist Randolphe Guenoden who provide us with a lively chat about the trials and tribulations of bringing the film to the screen. The chat is pretty unfocussed and deviates around the scene in question, picking up on scenes that where thought about and discarded which is quite refreshing. Their banter is quite infectious even if they are somewhat sycophantic over their creation.
- Kickin’ in with the Cast (12.42, HD) – Is a short behind the scenes look at the cast recording their lines interspersed with interviews with the director and producer, as well as the cast and way too much film footage; very back slappy but light enough not to annoy.
- Deleted Scenes (04.21, HD) – Three scenes presented as voiced storyboards and each with an introduction by the director explaining why they were cut (basically unused ideas); not much of interest here to be honest, the scenes are titled; Fight Club Bartender Scene, Po chasing the crow and Po in Gongmen City.
- Panda Stories (07.44, HD) – A look at some of the conservation efforts in place to help the surviving Giant Panda survive; and a free trip to China for the production crew to get their ‘inspiration’ as well as the naming ceremony at Zoo Atlanta where the latest born panda is named Po after surviving for one hundred days.
- Kung Fu Shuffle – Interactive games in the ‘cup and ball’ motif, search for either a bunny or baby Po in one of three barrels.
- Nî Hâo (09.08, HD) – Learn a number of Mandarin words.
- World of Dreamworks Animation – Trailers for other Dreamworks films.
- DVD & Digital Copy
Kung Fu Panda 2 is the sequel to the hugely successful and popular Kung Fu Panda, and heads the franchise in a very different direction. After Po becomes the Dragon Warrior he is forced to confront his parentage when the evil peacock Shen tries to destroy Kung Fu with the aid of advanced gunpowder weaponry. With a fundamental change of character and tone for this sequel, despite the best intentions of a strong story, comedic action and adventure, the film fails to live up to its illustrious predecessor in trying too hard to press all the right buttons but forgetting to remain true to its spirit in being instantly enjoyable. It’s not a bad film, but it does pale compared to the original and you are constantly reminded of this due to the makers continually making reference to it with style, artistic choices and plot points. Perhaps I’m being too cynical as my kids both loved the film and even saw it twice at the flicks, but for me this sequel didn’t manage to ignite that same passion for emotion or comedy, no matter how good it looks.
As a Blu-ray package dreamworks have again pulled out all the stops with reference picture and sound (the one thing that manages to top the original) all backed up by a comprehensive extras package. The only thing missing is the 3D version, which, no doubt, will be with us soon enough.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £27.99