89%Overall Score
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96%

Kung Fu Panda 3 is the exciting sequel to the beloved franchise that expands the world and the lives of the characters we love.

After the crazy events of Kung Fu Panda 2, which saw Po & co. defeating a genocidal peacock, Po (Jack Black) and the Furious Five (Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan) are enjoying a time of peace in the jade palace. They’re training and basking in accolades from the town. But Po needs to grow further in his training to become the Dragon Warrior. Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) tells him he must take over as teacher. It is, of course, a disaster. Po thinks he will never learn to teach and will never be the dragon warrior.

Meanwhile, in the spirit realm, Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) fights the long banished and mortally forgotten Kai (JK Simmons), a bull from Oogway’s distant past. They had been brothers, but had a falling out when Oogway chose a path of peace instead of Kai’s warmongering. Oogway falls to Kai, who uses his chi to descend to the moral realm in hopes of taking over the world.

On Earth, Kai captures the chi of kung ­fu warriors, turning them into jade zombies, ­Jombies, in a portmanteau coined adorably by Po and Monkey. But before Po and the Five learn of his villainy, Po has a bigger issue on the homefront: his birth father, Li (Bryan Cranston) has come from the secret panda village to find him! When the Jombies strike and Shifu turns to Oogway’s scrolls for instruction, the teams learns that pandas were the ancient guardians and masters of chi. Po decides to go to the panda village with his father in hopes of mastering chi to stop Kai. Po, the son of a panda, the son of a goose, the flailing Dragon Warrior, has to reconcile all these parts of himself in order to save everyone he loves.

Chi, or life force, could be an incredibly confusing concept to introduce in the third installment of a children’s franchise. But somehow, the DreamWorks team pulled it off spectacularly, always telling a clear story, but still taking risks- ­ like sending Po into the spirit realm for a final showdown. These heady concepts are distilled into a very basic idea: chi is a life force that comes not from crazy kung ­fu moves, but from inner peace. And Po’s path to inner peace comes not from sacrifice or sadness, which he has already experienced aplenty in the first two films, but from the contentment that who he is is enough. It’s a wonderful lesson for kids, especially in a franchise that’s already about the least likely martial artist becoming the master.

The panda village itself is a delight, filled with colorful characters and a ton of fun visual gags. In fact, the movie is so visually rich that I want to see it again so I can catch gags I am certain I missed. Each panda has its own personality, and they’re fairly easy to distinguish despite all of them being the same basic black and white. Sitting through the credits, I learned that many of the panda kids were voiced by the Jolie­-Pitt children. This is, after all, a family franchise through and through.

The Furious Five did not have as much to do in this film-­ a recurring complaint I have with the franchise as a whole. But it is Kung Fu Panda, and not Kung Fu All the Animals, so I suppose I should temper my expectations. That being said, when they are on screen, the Five make the most of their time, garnering a ton of laughs. Mantis and Crane have a particularly great scene when they first encounter Kai. Even stern Tigress makes a panda friend who forces her to soften up a bit.

If the movie has any major faults, it’s that Po’s relationship with his dads and the conflict between them, feels like something we’ve seen in previous installments. Mr. Ping (James Hong) just cannot seem to let Po grow up, whether that means relinquishing him to Shifu or letting him have a chance to get to know Li. And given that neither Li or Ping are as likeable as the li’l red panda, I’d be happier seeing the Dragon Warrior take on a more monkish existence, swearing off family altogether so he can face some new challenges in future Panda films.

Mei Mei (Kate Hudson), a saucy lady panda, also feels out of place. Her character felt like a vestigial tail, the remains of an earlier, less evolved draft. While her ribbon dancing made for a pretty great battle skill, her character is a little crazy in a lame-­and­-dated stereotype kind of way.

However, the real star of the show is and has always been Po. After two movies following him on the path to greatness, it’s so fun to see a character we know and love come into his own. The sequence in the spirit realm is absolutely gorgeous, triumphant, and most important, hilarious. Jokes fly like Crane on his Wings of Surveillance, and they never feel cynical, winking at the audience, or trying to keep bored parents entertained. It’s a movie that trusts that it’s good enough that no parent would be bored. The panda that ska­dooshed his way in our hearts so many years ago has overtaken mine yet again, and I was happy to be back.

 

 

Directed By: ​Alessandro Carloni & Jennifer Yuh

Produced By: ​Melissa Cobb

Written By: ​Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger

Starring:  ​Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, Dustin Hoffman, JK Simmons, Angelina Jolie, Kate Hudson, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Lucy Liu, James Hong, Randall Duk Kim

Distributed By: ​Fox, per their deal with DreamWorks Animation

Release Date: ​January 29, 2016

Run time: ​95 minutes

Rating: ​PG

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