Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016) / Animation-Action
MPAA Rated: PG for martial arts action and some mild rude humor
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast (voices): Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, J.K. Simmons, James Hong, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Kate Hudson, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross
Small role (voice): Randall Duk Kim, Wayne Knight, Al Roker, Willie Geist, Jean-Claude Van Damme
Director: Alessandro Carloni, Jennifer Yuh
Screenplay: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
Review published January 31, 2016
Po's master, Shifu (Hoffman, Chef), decides to retire his teachings and promote his Dragon Warrior to become the teacher of the rest of the Furious Five in the ways of kung fu. His new and somewhat reluctant status as a martial arts master is soon after put to the test when a spirit warrior named Kai (Simmons, Terminator Genisys) thrusts himself into the mortal plane after gathering all of the chi, the Chinese term for the mystical energy that flows within us, he can get from those who have learned to harness it best: the kung fu masters. Meanwhile, Po (Black, Goosebumps) is visited by another panda named Li (Cranston, Trumbo) who reveals himself to be his long-lost father, who takes him to a hidden valley where the rest of his panda brethren have been living in relative harmony. With Po the only entity that can stop Kai's path to total domination, the happy village, and perhaps all of China, rests in the paws of the kung-fu panda.
It's been nearly five years since the previous installment in the series, which means that many of the original fans of the first two entries will likely have 'grown up' beyond the point of caring about a follow-up. However, for those younger viewers who've partaken of the earlier films on DVD or a streaming service, there may be a new fan base out there looking forward to installment number three. It also avoids being the rush job of so many other family film series that try to strike while the iron is hot, usually resulting in a regurgitation of the same story, so it's commendable to get a more linear, progressive story arc for out titular hero.
Kung Fu Panda 2's Jennifer Yuh returns to the proverbial director's chair again for this chapter, this time sharing duties with Alessandro Carloni, an animator and story artist for the prior two films. Also returning are Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, who've now scripted and three Kung Fu Panda flicks, which has helped keep the stories consistent and the characters following a natural progression over the years This one introduces a more spiritual element to the challenges faced by Po, both internally and externally which is something more than the previous films in terms of scope, suggesting that the further one progresses in one's path to higher levels of kung-fu training, the closer one get to newer and higher planes of consciousness. Given that Po has had to defeat his previous nemeses with his physical skills or mental acuity, the spiritual side is certainly the next logical step in his progression, but one question that does remain: after Po and company have now faced an immortal spirit as a main adversary what larger challenge could they possibly face for Kung Fu Panda 4, should there be one?
As with the other entries, the life lessons are here, most notably about growing up, self-discovery, passing along of knowledge to the next generation, assuming new responsibilities, and of the value of father/son bonds, both biological and adoptive. It's not as sentimental as you'd expect, but it is genial and satisfying, with many of the new characters adding to the overall fun. J.K. Simmons and Bryan Cranston breath some very good life as the film's nicely designed heavy, the mystical bull named Kai, and the panda dad, Li, respectively. It's also nice to see more dialogue given to the celebrity actors that comprise the Furious Five than they were afforded in the prior entry, though they certainly are still not as integral to the story as they had been in part one.
Kung Fu Panda 3 continues the formula of slapstick fun and eye-popping action we've been given in the entertaining first two entries, and does it with the visual panache that makes it such a treat for the eyes as well as the funny bone. It's a very pretty film in its fluid animation and colorful, detailed art design. It skews for younger viewers, but it's done with enough cleverness that adults can watch along with the kids and have a pleasant time. While it's not anything that's going to revolutionize the industry, for fans of the (so far) enjoyable series, it should hit the spot just right.
©2016 Vince Leo