Beautifully animated and formulaically plotted, Kung Fu Panda 2 is one of those cartoons for kids that doesn't transcend its audience and play to adults as well. Indeed, even the packed house of youngsters with whom I saw the film barely seemed to laugh.
A sequel to the 2008 hit, this episode tries to deal with the bigger questions, even as it throws in jokes about how fat and childish its central character, Po the panda (voiced by Jack Black), is.
Last time out, Po sought to discover his destiny -- which, not surprisingly, turned out to be as a kung fu warrior known as the Dragon Warrior. This time, he seeks to answer the eternal question: Who am I?
But it's not "Who am I?" in the cosmic sense. Rather, it's "Who am I?" -- as in, who were my parents and why was I raised by a goose that runs a noodle shop, instead of by pandas?
The answer comes in the shape of a new bad guy, a peacock named Shen (Gary Oldman), whose tail feathers include steely blades instead of feathers. Shen has taken the craft of fireworks, practiced by his parents, and found a way to turn the gun powder into a weapon. Specifically, he's started building cannons, which will render kung fu useless.
Shen, as any adult will guess in the first five minutes, was responsible for the death of all pandas, including Po's parents. It was his effort to forestall a prophecy that said he would die at the hand of a black-and-white creature. Which makes Po into, what? Moses?
That's the running gimmick through the film: Po mildly freaks whenever he sees Shen's insignia because it brings up repressed memories from infancy which, eventually, are explained.
I won't comment on the 3-D, which is, as in all films, unnecessary. It would be nice to see this film, like Pirates 4, do minimal business at the 3-D theaters. Send a message; avoid 3-D.
Otherwise, the slapstick is unremarkable, and the martial arts sequences are uniformly disappointing. Most of them are presented so swiftly that it's hard to see what's going on. The writing is obvious and weak, with Po's animal sidekicks -- voiced by Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu -- barely getting enough lines to make you notice them. Most of Rogen's jokes -- as a praying mantis -- are about mating and having his head bitten off. Big yuks there.
Oh well. Kids may cheer. Adults will yawn. And there will definitely be, judging by the final moments, a KFP3, assuming the box office delivers on Kung Fu Panda 2.
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