Has it been a while (or never) since you've seen Kung Fu Panda? Are you desperate for a quick "catch-up" with the characters? And perhaps in the mood for a brief introduction to the new characters in Kung Fu Panda 2? Don't you hate articles that begin with four consecutive questions? Then read on for a character guide to one of the early summer's most smoothly entertaining movies. Yep, I adored this flick and I don't care who knows it. (Don't tell my dad.)
Po (Jack Black) -- Large, goofy panda who somehow became christened "the Dragon Master" in the previous film. Despite a proclivity for loudness and overt bumbling, Po is also a very sensitive and loyal leader. Plus this time around, as the leader of The Furious Five, he kicks serious ass and we buy it because, well, he's the Dragon Master!
Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) -- Sort of the Yoda of the series, only he's cuter, crankier, and less of a small reptile man and more of a "red panda." (Yes, that's what Shifu is! I looked it up. I thought he was a raccoon!) For all his wise advice, Master Shifu definitely takes a back seat in the sequel, which only makes sense because Part 2 is less about training and more about beating up bad guys!
Tigress (Angelina Jolie) -- Without her curvaceous body around to distract us, Ms. Jolie actually has a rather smoky and commanding voice presence. Here she returns as Po's loyal ally, the hard-fisted Tigress. She is a female tiger. Obviously. She's the one who teaches Po an important lesson about "inner peace," and she does it without being sappy or silly, either. Plus, as a member of The Furious Five, she kicks major ass.
Mr. Ping (James Hong) -- Despite being a goose, he has a tough time convincing Po that he's not the panda's biological papa. That problem will soon find its own resolution, as Po's new adventure offers clues as to where he came from -- which also gives Mr. Ping a sweet little subplot about missing his son. As always, Mr. Hong's voice is an aural treat.
) -- A rather amusingly animated primate with big eyes and a bug butt. Also a member of The Furious Five. Also kicks major butt. Mr. Chan's accent may be a bit difficult to decipher, but that's a small price to pay: if you're going to have a cartoon monkey (er, technically a Golden Langur Monkey) who is also a legendary kung fu master ... you gotta have Jackie Chan!
Crane (David Cross) -- The feathered member of the Furious Five, and a rather handy ally to have around, swooping as he does all over the baddies and snatching our heroes out of the air right before they hit the ground. The character also affords the always-funny Mr. Cross a chance to toss out a few hilarious quips here and there. I have no idea what breed of crane Crane is, and I'm simply not prepared to hit the Google that hard. He's a crane.
Viper (Lucy Liu) -- She's a snake, but sort of a sweetie. She's the cleverest of the Furious Five, and while she has no problem smacking an evil wolf in the chops, she's much handier as an escape artist. And since she's voiced by Lucy Liu, she's automatically the sexiest snake working today.
Mantis (Seth Rogen) -- The tiniest of the Furious Five, but often the loudest. He can do all sorts of deceptively powerful things, but isn't all that great of a comedian: he makes the same joke twice! Some biology: after mating, the female praying mantis will often devour the head of her mate. All things considered, Mantis chose wisely to avoid the ladies and devote himself to a life of celibate ass-kicking.
The Soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh) -- Our narrator, and a very wise (not to mention hungry) fortune-teller. She is a ram. According to Dodge, she's also tough.
Master Oxen (Dennis Haysbert) -- One of Po's three new (and reluctant) allies, albeit one who has a decidedly skewed vision of heroism. Mr. Haysbert's smoothly commanding voice makes this big Ox a welcome new addition to the Furious Five Plus Three.
Master Thundering Rhino (Victor Garber) -- One of Master Oxen's two sidekicks, and (of course) a serious ass-kicker. It's also sort of funny to imagine the rather sedate Canadian character actor Victor Garber lending a voice to something called Thundering Rhino.
Master Croc (Jean-Claude Van Damme) -- The third of our new allies. His lines of dialogue are few and virtually indecipherable, but yes, that's the Muscles from Brussels as a wide-eyed and angry kung fu croc. Let's give DreamWorks some points for creativity in the realm of "international appeal." In some markets, Van Damme's name will be right below Jack Black's.
...and yes, I definitely did save the best for last:
Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) -- Bad-ass peacock with a serious thirst for vengeance. Also he hates pandas. Animated flawlessly, the character is given a rich and multi-dimensional personality by Mr. Oldman, who plays the villain as both refined and petulant. Also funny. Ian McShane was a great villain in Part 1; Oldman is even cooler in Part 2.
Bonus bunny: Noted film director Paul Mazurksy plays the role of "Musician Bunny," and you'll only know who that is if you see Kung Fu Panda 2. I highly recommend that you do. Check out my review over at Twitch.