Kung Fu Panda 3 Review

I didn’t like Kung Fu Panda 2. I thought it was more Jack Black doing silly voices as Po, the unlikely Dragon Warrior, and continuing the visual gag of a fat panda being the most powerful fighter in all of China. It felt like pandering to the audience (intention pun) and lacking the heart of the first. I loved the original Kung Fu Panda and based off the charm, humor and characterization decided to give the trilogy another shot….

Kung Fu Panda 3 PosterKung Fu Panda 3 isn’t just a good “kid’s movie” it’s legitimately a solid film and worth your attention.

Like Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) says to Po, “If you only do what you can do, you’ll never be better than what you are.” Kung Fu Panda 3 takes some (albeit small) chances with the narrative by forcing Po out of his comfort-zone and into a teaching role and introducing Po’s biological father Li (played impeccably by Bryan Cranston). Li serves as one of the main narrative threads as Po balances what it’s like to have the father who raised him and his birth parent vie for his attention.

The outcome is about as subtle as a panda belly flop, but the message is still strong and one that I hope parents and stepparents take to heart.

Whenever the story starts to venture into a serious realm, it doesn’t stay there for too long. There are plenty of jokes which range from subtle, visual gags to over-the-top hijinks. Kung Fu Panda 3 is genuinely funny thanks to the enthusiastic, goofball performance of Jack Black and whoever happens to be playing the straight man with him in any given scene.

The Furious Five typically play this role but are unfortunately even minor-er characters in this installment. Seth Rogen (Mantis) and David Cross (Crane) deliver a couple well-placed jokes but for the most part are background characters. It seems a shame to cast Angelina Jolie (Tigress), Jackie Chan (Monkey) and Lucy Liu (Viper) to only have them deliver three lines.

With all of these Kung Fu masters on screen, you would anticipate furious action and martial art battles…and you’d be half right. Early in the film a new power is introduced which drives the villain forward in his quest and becomes the focal point of the conflict. This power quickly turns many of the climatic battles from a physical competition into something more familiar on an episode of DragonBall Z. It isn’t bad per se, but it isn’t visually interesting either.

Kung Fu Panda 3 DadKung Fu Panda 3 is not new viewer friendly. The premise established builds off the events of the first film and the audience’s working knowledge of Po’s relationship with The Five, his goose-dad, Masters Shifu and Oogway, plus how he became The Dragon Warrior. There is a small reference to Kung Fu Panda 2…but you can skip that entry (you probably should skip it) and still understand what is going on.

With the setup of the first film out of the way, Kung Fu Panda 3 is able to focus on the growth of Po as he learns being the Dragon Warrior means more than awesome poses and kicking butt. The film is able to remain enjoyable throughout due to the charisma and likability of Po – even when he is in the most precarious or powerful position he is geeking out over the absurdity of the world and the audience can’t help but get caught up in his dynamic charm.

Kung Fu Panda 3 is a fitting end to the trilogy or an enjoyable installment in the saga. There are positive messages of self worth, working hard, friendship and family for little ones and big ones to take away, but it is never preachy or feels like it has an agenda. The film is able to balance comedy, action and most of all heart every backflip and karate kick of the way.


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