By Robert Joseph Butler
Now a huge DreamWorks animation franchise and trilogy, Kung Fu Panda 3 is so amusing and clever that it can easily stand as it’s own film without thinking too much about the first two installments. Using the same formula of adult-aimed humor with colorful kung-fu sequences are merged well with genuine emotion and affecting moments. The film also offers endearing and equally comical voice work by the cast, all these strong elements make Kung Fu Panda 3 a very vibrant and successful sequel. The film also repeats some of the same themes of the first two about self-discovery, while mixing some new themes about the values of love and family.
Our cuddly lovable kung-fu panda Po (Jack Black) returns as he continues to struggle with his powers from the previous film. He ends up letting down his master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and he feels he’s not ready to become a master. Po ends up doubting himself and his destiny until he is reunited with his long-lost father (voiced wonderfully by Bryan Cranston) where they travel to a panda village where we are introduced to more colorful characters that add more energy to the sequel. It’s there where Po elevates himself from student to teacher as he trains these young pandas to become warriors against a villainous Kai (J.K. Simmons), who is determined in destroying all kung fu masters.
While using the same formulas of previous DreamWorks franchises and installments that include a lengthy action climax, Kung Fu Panda 3 benefits from solid pacing and impressive martial art animated fight choreography. When the final climax arrives it’s played out as a hilarious riff of an Akira Kurosawa epic films like The Seven Samurai and Ran, and the result is filled with so much visual artistry.
Overall, Kung Fu Panda 3 feels more colorful and alive than the previous two, and there are far less scenes of Po getting embarrassed since Po has transformed himself from the student to the teacher. The martial art sequences are once again exuberant, and the deceptions of the way pandas move and operate are amusing and clever. While the Furious 5 are hardly in this one, what makes this film work is the chemistry between Po and his father, and J.K. Simmons is effectively sinister as the villain, and Black is as hilarious and endearing as ever.