Review: Kung Fu Panda 3

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80%
80
Awesome

Great family fun.

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The third film in any trilogy has the unenviable task of paying off the story-lines and themes introduced in the previous two films, as well as having to match or even improve upon the quality of its predecessors. The third Godfather film infamously failed to do this, whilst perhaps more relevantly to the genre of the film in question, the third Toy Story film unquestionably succeeded in doing this. It’s safe to say that Kung Fu Panda 3 too succeeded, albeit more modestly and less emphatically than a film like Toy Story 3.

This third and possibly final film in the Kung Fu Panda series, sees protagonist and hero Po (Jack Black) struggling to make the transition from pupil to teacher. Po’s job isn’t made any easier by having to contend with the return of his presumably dead father (Bryan Cranston) and the threat of villainous warlord Kai (J.K. Simmons). The themes at the core of the film might be familiar to Kung Fu Panda fans, gratefully or annoyingly depending on what your perspective is.

It’s certainly undeniable that Kung Fu Panda 3 doesn’t break any new ground in terms of thematic subject matter, when compared with not just the two previous installments in the series but pretty much any film in the animated kids genre. Embracing your identity and who you are, irrespective of your own personal faults and shortcomings, is a subject that is very difficult to get tired of. This is especially the case when it’s tackled with enough warmth and a certain amount of levity. Ultimately, this is one of the few departments in which Kung Fu Panda 3 rises above its otherwise excellent predecessor.

A fair criticism of Kung Fu Panda 2 was that it was dramatically darker than the original Kung Fu Panda. Kung Fu Panda 3 is a much more lighthearted film and is easily the funniest of the three. The laughs and humour are very consistent throughout the refreshingly short but sweet ninety minute run-time of the film. There are many witty recurring jokes, the standout among which is the joke about the fact that nobody has a clue who the villain Kai is. Another joke about selfies, which is best saved for when you see the film, is another highlight of a joyfully funny film. The film is at its most funny in the scenes shared between Po and his long lost father Li.

Bryan Cranston is perfectly cast as Li and of the newcomers to the Kung Fu Panda series introduced in this film, he emerges as the best, with his portrayal of a father trying to make up for lost time. Whilst fellow newcomer J.K. Simmons portrays Kai with his now trademark steely intensity, the character comes off as a bit one-note and is far less complex than the conflicted villains of the previous two films, played by Ian McShane and Gary Oldman respectively. Final high profile newcomer Kate Hudson’s panda love interest Mei Mei is nothing more than an annoyance really.

All of the returning characters from Angelina Jolie’s emotionally cold Tigress to Dustin Hoffman’s grouchy Master Shifu to James Hong’s laughably capitalist Mr. Ping each serve a function in the overall story and all receive a fair amount of screen-time. The battle between Po’s surrogate and biological fathers in Mr. Ping and Li is actually a highlight of the film, whilst it’s a bit disappointing to see the previously hinted at romance between Po and Tigress relegated to simply a platonic relationship. It’s however undeniably remarkable that in an animated film which boasts voices from such high profile actors like Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen and Bryan Cranston, you are able to fully invest in the characters without just imagining the celebrities voicing them.

There is much to be said both positive and negative about the last 20 minutes or so of the film but mostly negative. The resolution of the main conflict of Kung Fu Panda 3 is unfortunately quite dissatisfying. It just felt too cheesy and silly, which is a bit of an odd criticism of a kids animated film. It also tried to tie the three films in the trilogy together in a manner which came across as forced and unnecessary. However, it was hard not to smile when Kung Fu Fighting was playing at the end of film and overall, Kung Fu Panda 3 did close out the trilogy in a fitting and appropriate manner.

Ultimately, Kung Fu Panda 3 maintains the quality of its two predecessors and serves as a fitting, possibly final chapter in Po’s story. Warm, entertaining, lighthearted and funny, Kung Fu Panda 3 is a film for the whole family to see and enjoy.

Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016), directed by Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh, is distributed in the UK by 20th Century Fox. Certificate PG. 

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