Director: Alessandro Carloni, Jennifer Yuh
Starring: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Bryan Cranston, Dustin Hoffman, J.K. Simmons
I thoroughly enjoyed the first two ‘Kung Fu Panda’ movies. They proved to me that Dreamworks Animation was a legitimate source of quality animated movies again. The first two films were humorous, filled with stunning animated action, great villains with personal and warped vindication, and heartwarming heroes. They also had a touch of the profound, as diving into topics like tapping into your unknown potential, accepting the value within you already, not allowing negativity to destroy the positive aspects of life and to not live in fear of past nor future, embrace the present time and do something good with it. At first glance, this sequel seemed to offer everything I’ve grown to love about this franchise.
Dreamworks Animation did push the movie from 2015 into January 2016. January is often the place movies go to die and so I was nervous, but if anything could thrive in the dead of winter, it would be a warm and fuzzy animated film in a successful franchise. Finally, the wait was over and I was pleased to see that ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ gave me all I could have asked for, and in some cases a little more.
‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ is again about Po the Panda and his friends, the Furious Five. Together they protect the Valley of Peace from harm. Po has already become the dragon warrior, he has saved the art of Kung Fu and uncovered the secrets to his tragic past. Now he faces perhaps his biggest adversary to date, when Kai, a once legendary but now unknown master Kung Fu warrior, rises from the spirit world to conquer China and eradicate all things connected to his old friend, Master Oogway. This of course includes Po, the Furious Five, and the temple where they train and pay respects within.
This film is very solid and I have very few negatives to speak of but I did feel the comedy was lacking some of its bite. The humor reminded me more of ‘Kung Fu Panda 2’ rather than the original, which I still consider the best. It tends to be a bit simpler and more slapstick-driven at times. The other thing is sometimes they handed certain ideas to the audience; they told us rather than showed us through the film. I understand this film is reaching for a younger audience, but I don’t see any issue in stimulating a child’s thought process or imagination.
I loved the visuals in this movie. The ‘Kung Fu Panda’ films have always had a unique style of animation which I’ve enjoyed, but this film really took that to another level; the scenery, characters, and villages are well crafted and there are several very colorful and unique montages that really set the film apart from its contemporaries. The action scenes may not have been as numerous this time – this film was more about the further development of Po the Panda – however, when the action arrived, it didn’t disappoint; it was colorful, crisp, and thoroughly entertaining.
The further development of Po as a character is outstanding. Yes, he is still a little bit of that goofball, but you can see he has matured with each movie into a different person, stepping up to face a new challenge and growing from these events. The film really doesn’t hide from the tragedies of the past and gets really emotional at times. Some things that happened in this movie were somewhat surprising, they brought in some very heavy and perhaps even dark concepts. I thought that was a bold move, but it resonated powerfully with the audience and myself. This film talks about inner-peace, sacrificing the needs of yourself for the needs of others, pushing ourselves to achieve new heights, and finding your own special way through this world.
The story added several new characters, my favourites of which happened to be voiced by Bryan Cranston and J.K. Simmons. Both characters had their personal issues to face and they of course handled them in different ways. I like that they explained why Kai, the villain, felt so slighted and had this personal vendetta. With a franchise already featuring two awesome villains, Kai is another one added to the list. The musical score too, was pleasant and fitting throughout. It didn’t transcend the movie, but definitely fit solidly within.
In conclusion, ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ is humorous, heartfelt, and action-packed. If you enjoyed the first two installments, then it’s a very safe bet to say you are going to like this one just as much, or even more. I’ve seen Dreamworks do good work before, but this is the first of their franchise where I’ve seen three consecutive, above-average films be released. I’m not sure that this will be the best animated film of this year (it will be a busy year for such films) but it is a strong contender early on.