Review: Kung Fu Panda 3

Po (voiced by Jack Black) has been promoted to Dragon Master status, meaning it is now his responsibility to carry on the teachings of Master Shifu (voiced by Dustin Hoffman). It doesn’t go terribly well. He also gets a visit from his own birth father Li Shan (voiced by Bryan Cranston), who wants to teach him how to eat and live like a true panda. Adopted father Mr. Ping (voiced by James Hong) is somewhat jealous of this father-son bonding. Meanwhile, a new evil emerges from the afterlife, General Kai (voiced by J.K. Simmons) to start capturing everyone’s ‘chi’ and turning them into jade zombies, including Po’s comrades. It’s up to Po to train an army of roly-poly, lethargic pandas into a capable army to stop General Kai’s zombie attack. Angelina Jolie (Tigress), David Cross (Crane), Seth Rogen (Mantis), Lucy Liu (Viper), and Jackie Chan (Monkey) all reprise their voice roles.

If I saw the previous “Kung Fu Panda 2” in whole, I don’t really recall much if any of it. I do remember rather liking the first one though, and this DreamWorks animated film from 2016 is also a lot of fun for young and old. Directed by Alessandro Carloni (an animator in his co-directorial debut) & Jennifer Yuh Nelson (“Kung Fu Panda 2”), this one gets off to a fun start with a cute DreamWorks ident with Po struggling to get in the moon, and continues with the film proper that is particularly enjoyable if you’re familiar with HK martial arts/fantasy flicks. The filmmakers clearly know their stuff here, and the film plays like an animated Jack Black starring in an early Jackie Chan vehicle (Think “The Drunken Master” or “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow”), but with a father-son vibe thrown in as well. It’s very simple stuff, but awfully sweet as well.

If you don’t normally like Jack Black’s brand of overly energetic comedy, you might find these films more to your liking than most of his films. Here you don’t need to put up with his wildly contorting face, and I think the character of Po is some of his best work to date, personally. I especially liked the line ‘I always felt like I wasn’t eating up to my full potential’. Seriously, Po is the Garfield of pandas and all of the jokes at the expense of the pandas for being fat are really funny. Bryan Cranston meanwhile, is perfectly cast as Po’s long-absent, ne’er do well father, which upsets his adopted father once again well-voiced by James Hong, who probably gets more scenes in this one than in the previous films. The scene where the two dads team up in a fight just warmed my heart and made me smile from ear to ear. Dustin Hoffman once again voices the wise sifu Master Shifu and is terrific as ever, and J.K. Simmons’ voice is almost unrecognisable, doing very fine work as the film’s villain. He’s not in it much, but Wayne Knight was born to voice a panda in my opinion. On the downside, all of the other returning voices needn’t have bothered showing up for the little that is required of them. I barely noticed Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan has never been well-used in this franchise, and Angelina Jolie’s lack of giveashit is as noticeable as her lack of presence in the film.

Yes, the story borrows a little from “The Seven Samurai”, but it’s a lot more appropriate than when it turned up in say “A Bug’s Life” (though you could argue that film borrowed from “Three Amigos!” instead). As for the animation, I’m not as entirely enamoured with its occasionally sun-drenched look as many seem to be, but it’s still gorgeous. The characters aren’t photorealistic but they’re attractive and textured. These films certainly have their own unique look to them and many people will love the blend of sunlight, shadow, and different colours. For me I just really like that they offer up different animation styles throughout, as the animators get to really show off. Really nice music score by Hans Zimmer (“Rain Man”, “The Lion King”, “Inception”) as well.

It’s a nice film. You’ll like it. You must. It’s impossible not to. Pretty well on par with the original, this is an entirely entertaining movie that’s as funny as it is exciting. Martial arts movie fans might enjoy it most of all, oddly enough. Children and panda lovers will likely enjoy it too. As a member of at least two of those three categories, I was pleasantly surprised by this one. The screenplay is by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, who scripted the first film.

Rating: B-


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