Kung Fu Panda 3 is a perfectly serviceable family animated comedy to take the kids to. The first sequel remains the high point of this series and hopefully this trilogy capper will see the series bow out. Visually arresting, with comedy of a lower denomination, the empowering message of the first movie is all played out and we’ve come full circle dealing with lead character Po’s past.
In this film a new even more powerful villain than the last one Grandmaster Oogway (J.K. Simmons) defeats the Spirit realm and returns to our Mortal realm to take on everybody’s favourite Panda Po. Po (Jack Black) himself in the meantime has taken on being a training master from his former teacher Master Shithru (Dustin Hoffman) who has committed himself to mastering Qi. What is Qi? Well in Chinese traditional culture Qi is important to defeating other kung fu practitioners in this movie. Also something about life force or energy or something. I would be more deferential to it if it wasn’t for the fact that the film is not. It’s a plot device in the form of Jade charms and nothing more. A bigger development comes in the discovery of orphan Po’s father Li (Bryan Cranston) who sets off a jealous streak within mother duck like foster father Ping (James Hong). Po, Li and Mr. Ping travel to a secret Panda village where Po sets out to learn Qi by being true to himself. Like Black himself, this series has always enjoyed revelling in fat jokes for Po while also making the powerful message that taking people on face value is a mistake. That all of us are capable of great things if we believe in ourselves. This series has literally had its five bowls of dumplings and eaten them too.
The first film was fine enough diverting fare with the character of Ping being an original take on the loving father of a warrior. The second film seemed to expand the series and the quality of DreamWorks animation, it was artsy using different animation style for a moving flashback, scoring a neat villain and even developing some of the relationships of the core group characters. By finally having Po meet other Pandas the film comes full circle and takes the character to a logical conclusion but the laughs aren’t as big, it’s getting harder to sell Po needing to train more to defeat an even more powerful villain than the last and the animation which has remained spectacular is only as good as what we have come to expect. There’s nothing wrong with that but there’s a difference between this and say Inside Out. It’s that difference that keeps an adult entertained at a kid’s movie. The kid, well they should love it.