There’s no doubt that you make it to a third film in a franchise by either having great content or creating a film for cheap but getting large profit margins these days. Dream Works Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 3 (KFP3) has certainly made it here by the former. However, is the third time a charm?
Jack Black lends his voice again as Po, the bumbling but lovable panda. The old crew is still with him: Angelina Jolie as Tigress, Seth Rogen as Mantis, Lucy Liu as Viper, Jackie Chan as Monkey and Dustin Hoffman as Master Shifu. Yet, in this installment, Po is on his way to becoming the Dragon Warrior. As if the journey for the student becoming the master wasn’t enough for Po, his long lost father Li (Bryan Cranston) comes on the scene to further distract him.
While Po reunites with his family (introducing us to new, memorable pandas), an old enemy from the spirit world, Kai (J.K. Simmons) has found a way to return to the mortal world by stealing other master’s chi. As Kai begins to defeat the Kung Fu Masters in China, he accumulates their chi in the form of jade miniatures of each master that he can wear on his belt. The jade miniature animations sound and look so real. The need for Po to ascend to the Dragon Warrior he’s supposed to be is even more pertinent.
With KFP3 you get the same incredible animated visuals you’ve come to expect, but the story doesn’t feel as fresh this time around. The film plays out in a way that feels more convenient to storytelling rather than exciting and integral. As Po unites with his father, tension arises between his bio dad and step dad, Mr. Ping (James Hong). As if finding his family wasn’t enough, Po also has to deal with pleasing the family he’s always known versus his new found relatives. Unfortunately, it feels almost negligent on Po’s part that he deals with his family issues while his comrades are loosing their “lives”.
By the end of the film we see Po’s growth and ascension into the role of Dragon Warrior with a message of “be yourself” that’s worthwhile for children of all ages. The animation in the film is top notch. While Po has a satisfying character arch and growth in the film, the furious five (Tigress, Mantis, Viper, Monkey, Master Shifu) are virtually silenced. Regardless, my 3 year old loved it, and I’m sure any child under the age of 13 will love the film too!