"Kung Fu Panda 3" Review
A Fast and Furry-ous new chapter of DreamWorks Animation's martial arts comedy franchise.
"Kung Fu Panda 3" is DreamWorks Animation's 32nd theatrical feature, but their first ever released in the month of January. A big-budget, high-quality animated film this early in the year is rare, and while this third chapter of Po the Panda, Master Shifu and the Furious Five doesn't quite live-up to the original, it's a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.
At the tail end of 2011's "Kung Fu Panda 2", a message from "The Universe" was sent to Po's biological father, living in a far-off location, alerting him that "My son is alive." "KFP3" picks-up right from there...well, sort of...since father Li (voiced by Bryan Cranston) needs some time to journey from his hidden Panda village in the mountains to reunite with his long-lost son in China's Valley of Peace.
Meantime, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) has asked Po (the always highly-energized Jack Black) to take-over as teacher of the Furious Five. Po has a difficult time handling his new responsibility, as well as mastering the art of Chi, which is the foundation of the group's ancient beliefs. But when an old enemy - the bull Kai (J.K. Simmons joins the voice cast), returns with plans to wipe-out all the masters and rule China, Po's teaching and spiritual skills are put to the ultimate test.
DreamWorks continues to raise the bar when it comes to visionary animation. The action sequences are well-staged and some of the more dramatic and symbolic moments feature characters surrounded by bright and beautiful visuals. And the creation of an entire village filled with pandas, each with its own, distinctive personality, is a major success. This is the aspect of "Kung Fu Panda 3" that kids will enjoy the most. Seeing Po playfully interacting with fellow pandas in this new environment provides many of the films memorable scenes.
Directors Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni deal with the elephant in the room head-on: Po now has two dads. Is Po's adoptive father, Mr. Ping, jealous of the new father - and vice versa? There are some effective moments involving family and relationship dynamics that feel authentic and aren't over-done, and they allow for this third installment to have a much more fun and consistently positive tone than "KFP2".
What "Kung Fu Panda 3" lacks is a gripping story arc. There are hardly any real surprises and the climax isn't as inspiring or motivating as it needed to be. The entire A-list voice ensemble is strong, and there are flashes of smart dialogue, a few solid running jokes and gags, particularly during scenes at the panda village. However, the final 20 minutes aren't po-werful enough and the script, as a whole, is a little too basic.
But, overall, this is an impressive-looking and entertaining addition to the series, and hopefully not the last we've seen of these characters and this saga on the big screen.