When it comes to sequels I’m pretty against them as the original is usually strong enough as a stand alone or it’s bad enough where it doesn’t warrant a sequel. However DreamWorks has been honing their craft in recent years, and some of their franchises I’m all for seeing more feature films of which is why I was pretty excited for Kung Fu Panda 3.
Kung Fu Panda was the journey of Po realizing his destiny of learning Kung Fu and becoming the Dragon Warrior. Kung Fu Panda 2 delves in to Po’s tragic past and obtaining inner peace despite his hardships in time to save China from a power hungry conquerer. Kung Fu Panda 3 is a mix of the two previous films where Po has to re-learn who he is as an individual after the appearance of his biological father, and along with a supernatural enemy bent on taking down everything Grand Master Oogway built including the Furious Five, the Jade Temple and their home.
The 3rd installment of the series had a great mixture of heart warming moments, comedy relief to balance the sometimes intense or scary portions featuring the new villain, Kai, who is possibly one of my favorite villains. He’s massive, intimidating, has badass magical powers/minions, and has an interesting backstory to why he seeks revenge involving Master Oogway. Not to mention his jade weaponry ricocheting off the rocky ground provides for really chilling sound effects for those impending battle moments. Kai was originally to be voiced by Mads Mikkelsen, but after a character rewrite J.K. Simmons was brought on for the challenge. He nailed it.
Another interesting recast was for Mei Mei, an insanely sassy panda with an exceptional talent for ribbon dancing. She was originally written for Rebel Wilson to voice which I could TOTALLY see and it would’ve been glorious. Sadly schedule conflicts came up and Kate Hudson became the new Mei Mei, and as a result most of her animation had to be redone for Kate’s performance of the character.
On the note of voice acting, this film is a great example of celebrity casting for animation done well. If I recall correctly they really pushed the start studded cast aspect (mostly for the Furious Five gang) for the first film, but they barely had any lines besides Jack Black as Po, Angelina Jolie as Tigress, and Dustin Hoffman as Master Shifu. The Furious Five were way more utilized in these sequels but the celebrity cast wasn’t pushed as heavily. I like that.
It’s also interesting to note that this film makes DreamWorks first time collaborating directly with Chinese animation teams at Oriental DreamWorks. As a result they were able to animate the dialogue in both English and Mandarin to help ensure the film’s success in China.
One thing I really love about the Kung Fu Panda series is there use of 2D animated sequences in all three films. They’re stylized to look and feel like Chinese inspired artwork and primarily used when a character is having a flashback or telling a tale to give backstory on a character. Hans Zimmer does a great job accompanying the visuals with powerful yet whimsical music.
As for the story without giving too much away I love that they weren’t afraid to deal with more complex subjects such as having Po’s biological father enter the picture but still address the complicated feelings that Po and Po’s adoptive father, Mr Ping, would going through. They also introduce the concepts of chi and the afterlife/spirit realm in a very open way where it isn’t dumbing it down for the younger audience. The overall theme of figuring out who you are and not to change to fit in to someone else’s world or ideals is a common one but it fit for this confrontation. It however did feel really forced for the climatic scene, but it was very sweet so I’ll let it slide.
The humor was mostly all hits for me. They had plenty of subtle jokes and play on words but a good amount of physical comedy and general slapstick silliness to keep kids entertained without being pandering. I do hope they retire the “Ska-doosh” move/joke as I feel that ma be the only thing potentially aging the film series.
There is something about Jack Black’s performances as Po that always gets me hooked in and just warms my heart. Po is a goof but genuine and does grow with every film without losing the bits of charm that make his character so endearing. If the story is strong enough, I wouldn’t be mad if or when they make a Kung Fu Panda 4.
Rotten Tomatoes: 80% (6.6/10 average)
Release Date: January 29th 2016
Studio: DreamWorks Animation
95 Minutes | Rated PG
Directors: Jennifer Yuh Nelson & Alessandro Carloni
Writers: Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger
Stars: Jack Black, Bryan Cranston & J.K. Simmons
What do you think of the latest Kung Fu Panda film? Comment below or tweet me @teriarchibbles!
ARTing is my new column all about animation, graphic novels, and anything in between that is art related. Regular posts coming on Wednesdays.
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