Synopsis – Continuing his “legendary adventures of awesomeness”, Po must face two hugely epic, but different threats: one supernatural and the other a little closer to his home.
My Take – In a genre dominated by Disney and Pixar, I believe Dreamworks Animation usually find them lost in the mix. While most of their films have worked such as Shrek, Madagascar, Rio, How to Train Your Dragon, Monsters vs. Aliens, The Croods and most recently Home, yet none of have managed to stand at par with the quality & the financial as well as critical success Disney keeps achieving. Well maybe expect for one – Kung Fu Panda. There’s a reason why this franchise is one of the most successful of all-time, and I’d like to believe that that reason is because the writers and the creative talents behind it know how to solidly move the story forward, even with the same characters, they know how to make them evolve without losing the charm and the heart that made the first and the second film effective. I had really enjoyed watching the first two films of this franchise a lot more than I thought I would and I had a feeling that this one was going to be every bit as good as the others. I’m happy to say that I wasn’t wrong. It’s weird how well these films are able to combine humor and action while appealing to both children and adults. Plenty of other children’s movies have been able to pull off the humor but the action has remained really well done throughout the entire series. The story follows Po (Jack Black) continuing his duties as the Dragon Warrior. Things soon start to change for Po when Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) decides to retire & gives Po the responsibility of continue teaching the Furious Five members Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Monkey (Jackie Chan) while he pursues the ancient art of ‘Chi’. In addition to this, Po’s biological father, Li (Bryan Cranston), finally finds him and wants to start a father son relationship with him much to anger of Po’s adoptive father Mr Ping (James Hong). As if things weren’t already complicated enough, Kai (J.K. Simmons), an evil Yak from the spirit realm, uses the chi from dead Kung Fu masters to make his way back to the mortal realm and starts causing havoc. Now Po has to travel to the hidden Panda village to learn the ancient art of chi and use it to vanquish Kai from the mortal realm. The second installment tackled mainly the story of Po, particularly about his origin and what happened to his parents. This is another journey in “getting to know oneself” story-line, and in this third installment, a similar story-line was told.
Albeit similar, it was rather told in another level of perspective, a supposedly more profound perspective. More profound in a sense that the knowledge of oneself reaches a certain threshold such that the responsibility to share it with others comes in at a ripe time and becomes another level of journey in “getting to know oneself”. Then, it becomes pedagogical, and the film’s story shows us a compelling idea of the true meaning of teaching. Teaching in a sense that you transform others, not to become like the teacher, but to become like themselves with their own potentials realized. Sure, the story sounds a bit cliché but luckily it’s done in a way that I don’t think has been done before. It tries so many new things with this movie giving it a modern twist on a movie where a person with an identity crisis finds himself. I would have liked to see the Furious Five play a more important part in this movie; although we’ve pretty much seen all there is to see about their abilities in the previous two films, I couldn’t help but feel that the writers were a little too eager to move them out of the way in favor of the new characters. But I do think having Tigress as the lone “survivor” to help Po was a nice touch, as we glimpsed the strength of their friendship in the second movie, but this film certainly brought it out in full. While Kai may be something of a run-of-the-mill villain, there’s no denying that he’s gorgeously animated, perhaps on par with the showy and elegant Lord Shen from Kung Fu Panda 2. Still, the “frustrated famous character who no one remembers as famous” joke feels like a retread from countless other movies. But it is a movie targeted at kids, so I can’t really hold that against DreamWorks. The film’s animation remains as phenomenal as ever, with Po and company zipping about in fluid motion. Both human and animalistic motions are flawlessly blended together to bring our anthropomorphic cast alive and in stunning detail and color. This quality remains even during the fast paced G-rated action scenes of Kung-Fu and comical chaos. The action sequences are fun and entertaining, and there’s a little bit of a fish-out-water situation as well because our hero Po is pretty much new to this whole Panda village and they way they do things over there. Of course fans of the series know that Po’s main angle is comedy in terms of entertaining our younger audience members. The film has plenty of laughable moments as Po’s enthusiasm and clumsiness leads to many situations that filled the audience with high pitched squeals. Running into walls, screaming in over-dramatic voices, and goofy, thought cute, faces are the ploys they unleash. Fortunately there are some well-written lines, great delivery, and a few advanced jokes that add a little wit to the mix. And like any good animated feature, this movie also brings about some emotional moments to grab you into the story. Morals, especially those geared towards finding your self, are integrated into the excitement and add some more depth to Po. Seeing Po reunited with his kind starts pulling the heartstrings, and the interactions with his dad (combined with the powerful musical score) nearly brought tears to my eyes. But what rings true throughout all three films is that it’s ultimately about Po’s journey to become one with who he is.
He accepted his destiny despite people’s doubts, he let go of the past and found inner peace, and now he’s put to the test once more, his confidence will be tried once more, and so seeing him be the underdog again is why root for Po. I often say that “Kung Fu Panda” movies faithfully follow Pixar‘s manual — the undeniable importance of a well-written story; one that goes straight for the heart and aims to inspire. The flaws of this film are what really prevents this film from being better than what it is. The villain (Kai) was not fleshed out as much and there was a lot of potential for him even though granted it was given a great talent with J.K. Simmons which was a pretty good performance overall. Compared to previous villains like Tai Lung (Ian McShane) or Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), they were really fleshed out and had a certain impact on Po, be it because of his master or because of his past. In this one, the motives that were set for the villain was rather simplistic and the exposition for him being quite powerful was promising and could have been his saving grace, but as the film progressed he did show he was powerful but it felt like there was more to him and felt quite underwhelming. Most of the cast returns for this movie and the few newcomers fit right in without any problems. Jack Black has really done a great job with the character of Po and it’s hard for me to imagine anyone else stepping into those shoes. The humor and the drama seem to come surprisingly easy with Black and he’s obviously comfortable playing this character. All of the returning actors and actresses also do an excellent job with their characters but the newcomers are the ones who really shine here. Bryan Cranston is basically amazing at everything he does and his Li is no exception. I know Cranston can do drama like it’s no one’s business but he also has great comedic timing. I especially liked his interactions with James Hong. J.K. Simmons does a fine job added to the mix. This guy has done quite a bit of voice acting in the past and his experience really shows here. I didn’t even know it was Simmons until the credits started rolling which just goes to show how well this guy is able to change his voice and get into character. Like mentioned before, If only he had a more fleshed out character. Among supporting roles, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Kate Hudson, James Hong, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Randall Duk Kim play their parts well. On the whole, ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ is an awesome addition to the franchise which just keeping better with every installment!!
Rated – PG
Run Time – 95 minutes