Kung Fu Panda 3.
It’s no secret that I absolutely love the Kung Fu Panda franchise. The first two films both surprised me with the amount of heart and the amount of action they could fit into a movie. It’s rare to find a movie that is able to pull at your heartstrings and also give you some of the coolest action sequences imaginable, animated movie or otherwise. So would this third entry be able to capture the magic for a third time?
Po (Jack Black) finally reunites with his real father Li (Bryan Cranston), just as a supernatural enemy named Kai (J.K. Simmons) breaks free of the afterlife and comes to hunt down the “Dragon Warrior” Po. Kai is able to defeat kung fu masters and capture their chi, with his final goal being Po. The only way that Po can hope to stop him is to master something that pandas have long forgotten how to do: master their chi.
Other voices include Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Lui, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, David Cross, James Hong, and the new addition of Kate Hudson.
Somehow… They’ve done it. We’ve managed to get potentially one of the best animated trilogies in existence. Kung Fu Panda 3 felt like there was nowhere else to go but they managed to craft a masterpiece.
Let’s start with the story. First off, it is a little predictable and a little repetitive (“I don’t think I can x but hopefully I can learn so that I can stop y!”). But the way that they get you through this story is brilliant. They manage to weave in side stories about family, love, self-worth, and (like the first two) overcoming insurmountable odds. While you can guess how it’ll end almost immediately, the journey is still fun, full of great jokes, stellar voice acting, and some deep and poignant moments.
The new voice additions all worked tremendously. J.K. Simmons is the villain Kai, delivering a performance just short of Whiplash. Bryan Cranston appears as Po’s real father, getting a few meaningful moments as well, which he completely nails. And surprisingly, Kate Hudson was one of the funniest aspects of this movie, playing a female panda with a bit of an eye for Po.
Above all this, though, this movie managed to one-up its predecessors in a way I didn’t think was possible. This movie is one of the most gorgeous films I’ve (maybe) ever seen. They manage to work in exquisite colors, fantastic settings, and they play around with medium, shifting to all sorts of different art styles.
This aspect most notably plays out in the movie’s exceptional action sequences. As Kai defeats the other kung fu masters and claims their chi, you can bet that these action scenes will be impressive. The first two movies had great action but this one managed to somehow do it even better.
What doesn’t work?
There are only a few tiny things, that won’t impact my score much.
I mentioned that the story is a little predictable and a little too similar to the first two films. Some of the jokes didn’t hit but they killed with the kids, so maybe I wasn’t the target demographic. And lastly, some voice talent was underused. Lucy Lui had one line I think? I get it, since screentime is valuable, but it just felt like a waste to have these huge names and record a line or two. But since Cranston, Simmons, and Hudson were so fantastic, I didn’t really think about this much.
Kung Fu Panda 3 is a fantastic way to end this trilogy (and I do hope this is the last one). It delivers a touching story via stellar voice talent, incredible action choreography, and a thoroughly beautiful movie from start to finish. Little moments didn’t work for me, but overall this was everything I wanted it to be.