Kung Fu Panda 3

Posted by Joel Copling on January 29, 2016

As with the old adage about action movies and their heroes (or, perhaps, villains or both), animated films are usually only as good as their protagonists are easy to relate to or likable, and Po (voice of Jack Black), the hero of this unlikely trilogy about a panda whose comfortable life is disrupted by prophecy-driven destiny, certainly fits the bill. If 2008's delightful first film was slightly hampered by the usual introductory formula (and, trust me, "slightly" is key, as it was still delightful) and 2011's first sequel was complicated by surprising darkness and thick with emotional potential with which it consistently followed through, then "Kung Fu Panda 3" is somewhere directly in the middle of the two states, which is to say that it is quite touching, indeed.

After Po was forced to confront the fact that Mr. Ping (voice of James Hong, who continues to be this series' most valuable voice-cast member), the goose, is not, in fact, his father, this second sequel finds him back into his formerly comfortable life in ancient China in spite of his destined status as Dragon Warrior. Master Shifu (voice of Dustin Hoffman) is nearing retirement, or more specifically, in Jedi fashion, Po is reaching the end of what he could learn from the elder warrior. Shifu puts him in charge of the Furious Five--who include, as ever, Tigress (voice of Angelina Jolie), Monkey (voice of Jackie Chan, who at least gets one or two more lines of dialogue this time), Mantis (voice of Seth Rogen, who gets an upswing in screen time), Viper (voice of Lucy Liu), and Crane (voice of David Cross). There is a montage of increasing hilarity as Po attempts to train them to disastrous results.

Two conflicts arise. The first (and good) kind arrives in the form of Li (voice of Bryan Cranston, who is clearly having a ball), another panda who shows up in Po's hometown and announces that he's looking for the son he lost years ago. That's a funny coincidence, says Po, because he's been looking for the father by whom he believes he was abandoned at birth. The two take a few amusing moments to realize that they are whom the other is seeking, and of course, Po is thrilled to hear about and inspired to visit the tribe of lost pandas that no one ever knew survived. Of course, Mr. Ping is inevitably jealous of Li and accompanies both in order to keep his eye on the situation, but luckily, screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger are smart enough not to resort to cheap manipulation here.

The other, far worse, and eventually primary conflict arises in the form of Kai (voice of J.K. Simmons), a bull-like spirit warrior himself who likes to steal the chi that drives the other spirit warriors' kung fu ability. He trained and fought right alongside Oogway (voice of Randall Duk Kim), the wise turtle who taught Master Shifu and chose Po as the future of all spirit warriors, before a falling-out that, predictably, involved a power trip on Kai's part. Now, it is up to Po, who secretly possesses the source of chi within his very spirit, to defeat Kai, release his spiritual prisoners from his ruthless grasp, and perhaps learn something in the final steps toward confronting his destiny.

The insertion of a villain, even one as generally significant to the narrative as Kai, in this case is almost arbitrary to the bigger picture. He's a solid heavy, given more personality than one might expect (such as annoyance that his legacy as the one who fought alongside and beat Oogway has all but entirely disappeared from legend), but he's mainly a plot device used for some pretty dazzling fight sequences (such as a pair of bookended ones that take place in a realm where gravity does not seem to exist). Far more affecting is the dual father subplots, as both Li and Mr. Ping have fears of losing Po for different reasons (The Furious Five, meanwhile, continue to be under-utilized in this series; perhaps a spin-off is in order?). "Kung Fu Panda 3" returns to the familiar study of Po as an individual, but its themes are familial in nature, so maybe that was inevitable.

Film Information

Featuring the voices of Jack Black (Po), Angelina Jolie (Tigress), Dustin Hoffman (Shifu), James Hong (Mr. Ping), Bryan Cranston (Li), J.K. Simmons (Kai), Jackie Chan (Monkey), Seth Rogen (Mantis), Lucy Liu (Viper), David Cross (Crane), and Kate Hudson (Mei Mei).

Directed by Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh and written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger.

Rated PG (martial arts action, mild rude humor).

95 minutes.

Released on January 29, 2016.