It says a lot about the appeal of the Kung Fu Panda franchise that three movies later, the idea of a kung fu-fighting panda is still as fresh and funny as it was in 2008.
When the first movie came out back then, I was thrilled. It was beautifully animated, had spot-on voice actors, a kick-ass story, and best of all, from the tiniest mantis to the podgiest of pandas, everybody was kung fu fighting. The sequel in 2011 was even better – with more explosive set-pieces, more creatively imagined animal-fu sequences, and a villain that was a peacock, of all beasts.
Happily, Kung Fu Panda 3 manages to keep the franchise’s reputation as a gorgeously-animated, fun-filled, animal-kung fu action-comedy franchise largely intact.
Set some time after the last movie, the film begins with Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) announcing his retirement, and as the current Dragon Warrior, Po (Jack Black) has to take over as the Jade Palace’s master and teach people kung fu.
The only problem is, he’s not a very good teacher in the first place.
Then, things get even more complicated when his biological father (Bryan Cranston) shows up and together, they travel to a secret panda village in the mountains, with his adopted father, Mr Ping the goose (James Hong), in tow.
Meanwhile, a powerful warrior from the past named Kai (J.K. Simmons) escapes from the spirit realm and goes on a rampage across the country, absorbing the chi of all the martial arts masters and turning them into mindless jade zombies (or as Po puts it, “jombies”). So now, it’s up to Po to learn how to use chi, teach everyone kung fu, and save the day once again. Skadoosh!
While Kung Fu Panda 3 is almost as entertaining and fun as its predecessors, I couldn’t help but notice that some cracks are beginning to show in the beloved panda’s armour. There is a certain sense of “been there, done that” running throughout the movie.
The story is pretty much the same as the first two movies – Po has to learn something new, fails miserably, then goes on to discover a new side of himself, and defeat the bad guy in the end. The flow of the plot also seems a little haphazard, with characters reaching important epiphanies without any indication of how they got there in the first place.
Black is still pretty funny as Po too, and the Furious Five – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Snake (Lucy Liu), Mantis (Seth Rogen), and Crane (David Cross) – also get their time to shine (especially in one fight against Kai). However, the villain this time, while formidable in terms of power and threat, just doesn’t stand out as much as, say, the peacock in KP2 did. It’s not Simmons’ fault, it’s just that Kai’s motivations and origin aren’t too imaginative in the first place.
Other than that, there is still a lot to like about Kung Fu Panda 3. The pace flows like water, the jokes are as unrelenting as a flurry of fists, and there is even time for a little roly-poly panda R&R in between fights that helps flesh out Po’s character even more.
The presence of other pandas besides Po gives the story a welcome new dynamic, and his new role as teacher does open up new possibilities for the character.
With DreamWorks Animation confirming recently that there are plans for THREE MORE movies, he’s going to need all the new moves he can get.
Kung Fu Panda 3
Directors: Alessandro Carloni, Jennifer Yuh
Voices of: Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, James Hong, Dustin Hoffman, J.K. Simmons, Kate Hudson