Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)

The weight is over

Opening with an explosive battle in the Chinese Spirit Realm and concluding with yet another rendition of ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ (this time by The Vamps), Kung Fu Panda 3 is never tedious or dull. Unlike the Ice Age films, that have progressively gotten worse, or those awful Madagascar sequels, which have lost the plot entirely, this third Kung Fu outing retains most of the fun (and some of the magic) of its predecessors, even if the series is beginning to show slight signs of wavering.

... a reflective moment ...
… a reflective moment …

An expert in martial arts, the titular rotund dumpling-muncher has had quite the cinematic journey thus far. Po (Jack Black) fulfilled his destiny back in 2008 when he became the Dragon Warrior in the first King Fu Panda. His voyage continued in Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011), with Po unearthing the secrets of his mysterious past. His newest adventure however, brings him full circle as Po finally evolves into a fully-fledged hero, now being forced into tackling the responsibilities of his master.

Kung Fu Panda 3 begins with a prologue (just like the original film) that sees Grand Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), now in the Spirit Realm, battling it out against a powerful Yak named Kai, (J. K. Simmons) who has defeated all the other masters in the domain and taken their chi (or life force). Losing the fight, Oogway warns Kai that the mighty Dragon Warrior will eventually stop him from becoming all-powerful. Seeing this as a challenge of sorts, Kai returns to the mortal world (using the chi energy) in search of this ‘great’ champion. Back on the Earthly plane, the wise Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) announces his retirement and hands the training reigns over to Po who struggles to take over the mantle as he begins to question his own authenticity as the Dragon Warrior. Things get complicated when a panda, Li Shan (Bryan Cranston), shows up and breaks Po’s dumpling-eating record; this feat verifying the fact that this stranger might very well be Po’s biological father.

Ain't No Mountain High Enough
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

With a firm foundation already in place, directors Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011), and Alessandro Carloni — along with returning writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger (who probably know this world inside out by now) — keep Kung Fu Panda 3 bright and breezy with a number of zany slapstick gags, sharp sliced-and-diced action and (n)oodles of heartfelt moments. Throughout its brisk 95 minute runtime, filmmakers ensure that there’s always something exciting up on screen, the team keeping true to the Eastern ways of life while remaining respectful to the Chinese culture and their Oriental beliefs — if you’ve enjoyed the series thus far, Kung Fu Panda 3 is essentially more of the same. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the animation is (once again) richly detailed, vibrant and tremendously arresting with a lot of ancient Chinese imagery and martial arts inspired visuals being incorporated into each frame.

In spite of this, the biggest disappointment in this third offering is the movie’s villain. Sure, J.K. Simmons, Spider-Man (2002), does a credible job as the growling antagonist Kai but after a promising start, this luminescent jade-bladed warrior just turns into your typical one-dimensional baddie who’s got very little in the way of motive. Furthermore, his design is a tad boring and cartoony, a far cry from the threatening looking adversaries from the previous films.

'How much can a panda bear?'
‘How much can a panda bear?’

With the exception of Jack Black, Kung Fu Panda (2008) — who’s clearly still having a ball bringing this black-and-white wisecracking combatant to life — the majority of the returning star-studded voice cast have little to do and consequentially feel wasted. The Furious Five team are missing for large chunks of the narrative — Angelina Jolie, Maleficent (2014), probably has the most to do as Tigress, Po’s loyal friend and ally, whereas the rest of the gang are basically reduced to bit players. Lucy Liu, Charlie’s Angels (2000), gets a couple of lines (literally) as the slithery Viper, Seth Rogen, Monsters vs. Aliens (2009), fares (slightly) better as the fast-talking insect Mantis, Jackie Chan, Rush Hour (1998), is a joy (as usual) playing Monkey while David Cross, Megamind (2010), is completely forgettable as the long-legged, long-necked fighter Crane. Last but not least, James Hong, Mulan (1998), really stands out as Po’s adoptive goose father Mr. Ping, who’s feeling both jealous and insecure now that Po’s real dad has stepped into the picture.

New members to the Kung Fu family are a bit of a mixed bag. Bryan Cranston jumps from his portrayal of a famous screenwriter in Trumbo (2015) to effortlessly voicing a giant animated panda, his performance once again proving that there isn’t anything that Cranston can’t do. Kate Hudson, Bride Wars (2009), is introduced then quickly forgotten as Mei Mei, a ribbon dancer and prospective love interest for Po, who we meet in a Shangri-la type panda paradise — a secret location brimming with similar looking CGI pandas — while J.K. Simmons (as mentioned earlier) does the best he can with his underwritten role of Kai, Oogway’s former brother-in-arms.

Don't mess with the Yak-uza!
Don’t mess with the Yak-uza!

Energetic and playful whilst extending on what’s come before (a scene where Po and Li Shan destroy the fabled Hall of Warriors while trying out battle amour is a real kicker), Kung Fu Panda 3 is ideal over-the-top entertainment for young and old — it’s even littered with the usual barrage of messages for the kiddies about finding your identity and the importance of team work and family. With two movies and a Nickelodeon cartoon, Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness (2011), already under its belt, let’s hope that this third installment in the ‘Kung Pow’ series signifies the end for both Po’s spiritual journey and the DreamWorks franchise. I’m beginning to feel that this panda is starting to lose his chi.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Kung Fu Panda 3 is released through 20th Century Fox Australia