How do the people at Dreamworks think up this stuff? Kung Fu Panda 2, is many things–an action flick, a hero’s search for his identity, a father and son story, a tear-jerker (What? There was something in my eye!)–but it also is a movie that has changed my feelings about peacocks forever. Or, at the very least, peacocks voiced by Gary Oldman.
When we meet up with Po (Jack Black), things are going pretty nicely for him. He’s made friends with the Furious Five (Angelina Jolie, David Cross, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan as Tigress, Crane, Mantis, Viper and Monkey, respectively); he’s working on mastering inner peace with the help of Shifu (Dustin Hoffman); and due to Po’s fame, business has picked up nicely at his father’s noodle shop. But every movie needs a villain, and boy does it find a good one in Shen, a silvery white peacock full of parental issues of his own after getting banished from what he believes is his rightful kingdom. Of course, his banishment was because he tried to exterminate all the pandas, after a soothsaying goat (Michelle Yeoh) predicted his defeat would come at the hands (paws?) of one. This is some seriously dark material for the kiddies (if you were traumatized by the rounding up of the unicorns in The Last Unicorn, this will ring familiar).
Taking the vain attributes always associated with peacocks, and turning Shen into a narcissistic preener of the highest variety is pretty clever to begin with. But the animators have a terrific time turning Shen’s feathers into a sinister fan that seems to have its very own personality — imprinted with colors that bring on some PTSD for Po, reminding him of when he first saw them during his repressed, traumatized childhood. He spreads them, folds them, and generally whips them around like a cape. And then, of course, there’s Gary Oldman who puts his distinctive voice to work, as always committing fully to playing the bad guy. Think Jeremy Irons in The Lion King. Or, Peter Ustinov in Robin Hood. It’s a wonderful pairing, and helps make Kung Fu Panda 2 a compelling watch — and brings a whole new mean to “angry birds”.