Whenever someone says they have problems with excessive sequels, I always bring up “Kung Fu Panda 2” (2011) as an example of how a sequel can surpass the original. The first film, released in 2008 was good, but “Kung Fu Panda 2” was even better and is one of my favorite animated films ever.
So does part 3 live up to its predecessor? Unfortunately, no.
The movie picks up not long after the events of the second film. The Dragon Warrior Po (played by Jack Black) has mastered the technical side of kung fu leading his master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) to advance him to the next step: being a teacher. The problem, though, is that Po is hesitant to teach since he’s never done it before. Complicating matters more is that Po also ends up meeting his long lost father, Li (Bryan Cranston).
Meanwhile, an old adversary, a bull named Kai (J.K. Simmons) has escaped from the spirit world on a quest for vengeance and his old hatreds put Po right in his path.
Starting off with the positives, there certainly were some solid pieces to this picture. Mainly, the father and son relationships between Po and his adoptive father Mr. Ping (James Hong) and his birth father Li. This was one of the main driving points of the film and watching it develop was very heartfelt and emotional. Another strong storytelling point was Po learning how to be a teacher by working with his students’ strengths.
Surrounding these two plot points, though, was a rather lackluster affair. Po learning about the culture of the pandas at their secret village felt lacking because of how much focus was put on comedy. Additionally, Kai’s motivation, compared to the fantastic villain Shen in “Kung Fu Panda 2,” was quite disappointing in how generic it felt.
The character Kai was especially disappointing since he was voiced by the fantastic J.K. Simmons. Despite attempts to make him threatening, the character just felt too much like the villain from the first movie.
Another issue when it came to the characters is that the Furious Five and Shifu were largely sidelined for much of the picture while many of the new panda characters got nearly no development whatsoever.
As previously stated, though, Po learning about how to be a teacher as well as his relationships with his fathers is moving which can keep an audience invested. On top of that, the voice acting is strong here, especially from Bryan Cranston.
What has been the highlight of this series so far is undoubtedly the animation and in “Kung Fu Panda 3” it’s no exception. The animation through most of the film is downright gorgeous. From the backgrounds to the way the characters are choreographed, it all looks fantastic.
Also, while I did think that the movie relied too heavily at times on comedy, mainly in the panda village, there were some legitimately funny moments.
“Kung Fu Panda 3” is the weakest in the trilogy falling behind the first two. With that said, though, it’s still a serviceable animated picture and gets a good point across in an efficient way. 3 out of 5.