Its been a few years since the incredibly well made Kung Fu Panda 2. While hugely entertaining, the 3rd instalment of the Dreamworks mega franchise does have a few narrative blemishes that keep it from being the best in the series.
At the end of Kung Fu Panda 2, we learned that Po’s father is alive and living in a secluded panda village high up in the mountains. Po’s father, Li Shang, voiced by Bryan Cranston, tracks down Po and the two have the reunion that Po has been so desperately wanting his whole life. There are a few great scenes during this reunion that are full of heart and some of the movies best humour.
The movie also sets up the villain Kai, voiced by J.K. Simmons. It seems that a long time ago, Oogway banished Kai to the spirit realm. Kai, after hundreds of years, finds a way to return to the physical realm, to put a stop to the only one that can get in his way, Po: The Dragon Warrior. I really loved the design of Kai. His jade blades are visually pleasing to see in motion and are used in some truly fantastic ways. I felt his build up was well executed, but his conclusion to the story, and his inevitable confrontation with Po, was a bit lacking.
The conflict between the two never feels earned. It’s like the movie is missing the act where the hero is defeated, regroups, trains, and then must come back to take the villain down. The victory against Kai just doesn’t feel vindicated, as it feels like it is over before its starts and resolves far too easily.
It’s also a shame that Po’s journey of self discovery is essentially the same as the last film, swap out inner peace for chi, and it’s the same personal growth road block used again. There are a few things the movie tends to repeat from the prior films like where Po must learn said skill before the villain arrives. It’s sad to see that this movie essentially borrows the same narrative beats as the previous entries. It doesn’t make the films any less entertaining, but can come off feeling like this is merely a greatest hits of the first two instalments.
The voice cast in this movie nails almost every scene given to them. Jack Black returns as Po and is in top form on each and every line. Kate Hudson as Mei Mei is a stand out character and both J.K. Simmons and Bryan Cranston as I have mentioned above, are fantastic. Dustin Hoffman and the rest of the Furious Five, aside from Angelina Jolie’s Tigress, don’t really have much to do in the movie, and feels like they are mostly phoning it in. In fact, I can’t even remember if Lucy Liu’s Viper even had more than one or two lines in the whole movie. Randall Duk Kim as Oogway is just as entertaining here as he was in the prior films. James Hong, as Mr Ping, Po’s adopted father, has far more and better material to work with here than both the prior films combined.
Visually, the Kung Fu Panda world has never looked better. This movie in 3D and is stunning in every sense of the word. The movie tries a few different visual styles and instead of them standing out apart from one another, they mesh perfectly and give the visuals some real depth and variety. The Jade warriors in the movie look fantastic and the green coloured effects in this movie really stand out.
Aside from the conclusion not feeling earned and the recycling of a few concepts from the prior films, Kung Fu Panda 3 delivers as a fun family film, with solid humour, great action and some of the best visuals in an animated movie I have ever seen.