Eight years after he first hit the screen, the clumsy, plump, black and white panda Po (voiced by Jack Black) is back with a new test of strength and resilience in Kung Fu Panda 3.
He’s been living large and loving life as the Dragon Warrior, until his teacher Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) presents him with the next step in his evolution as the Kung Fu Panda: Po must become a teacher. This is one task Po is not so ready to take on … at least not initially. For his first teacher training exercise, Po is told to train the Furious Five – the “best of the best” kung fu warriors in all China. It doesn’t go well.
As Po attempts to instruct Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), Crane (David Cross) and Mantis (Seth Rogen) in the finer points of kung fu, chaos reigns in the training hall. Such is usually a place of discipline, honour and sacred practice and their faith in Po is dented. Meanwhile, Po’s long lost biological father – Li Chan (Bryan Cranston) – suddenly appears on the scene and, “bingo”, he has two dads. The other, of course, is his adoptive father Mr Ping (James Hong), a goose (and I do mean that literally).
Po and Li Chan raise hell before the appearance of a powerful and vicious spirit warrior Kai (JK Simmons) – a yak. He has returned to the mortal world by stealing the Ch’i (energy force) of the father figure of kung fu, an ancient tortoise named Oogway (Randall Duk Kim). Now Kai is on a mission to become omnipotent by claiming the Ch’i of all the great warriors.
The first two installments of the franchise were both nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars and each took more than three quarters of a billion dollars at the global box office. So, Kung Fu Panda has become one of the most successful animated franchises. The writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger have been consistent across all three films, while Jennifer Yuh, who directed the second in 2011 is joined here by Alessandro Carloni.
As much as I would like to say I enjoyed Kung Fu Panda 3 as much as the other two, in all good conscience I can’t. Even though it is only 95 minutes, it failed to sustain my interest or attention for that duration. The movie had a number of flat patches and wasn’t as cute or funny as I remember the earlier ones to be, which disappointed me. It was as if the filmmakers had run out of decent ideas and simply did the best they could under the circumstances.
I wasn’t sold on Po’s dad’s emergence and actually wondered when he did appear whether that would turn out to be a furphy – in other words could it be that Po’s father was an “evil plant” or simply an imposter. Also, the idea that Po could be turned into a respected teacher given his behaviour was far-fetched – a real stretch – that didn’t wash. Somehow, I was more comfortable with the overall premise of a bad dude from the old days re-emerging and gaining strength by stealing others’ Ch’i. But as these “others” fell by the wayside, they were represented as all green figures and added little to the plot. The final victory (spoiler alert) by Po too was the result of what I considered to be a pretty lame fight sequence.
Also featuring the voice talents of four of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s children, Kung Fu Panda 3 may win the hearts and minds of young children, but failed to excite mine. Rated PG, it scores a 5½ to 6 out of 10.
Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Alessandro Carloni
Cast: (Voices of) Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, J.K. Simmons, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu
Release Date: 24 March, 2016
Rating: PG – Mild animated fantasy violence
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television