UK Release Date: 5th March 2016
Runtime: 95 minutes
Director: Alessandro Carloni, Jennifer Yuh
Writer: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
Starring: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Bryan Cranston, JK Simmons, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan
Synopsis: Po is reunited with his long-lost father, but his new life is immediately threatened when a villain emerges from the spirit realm and begins targeting Po’s warrior allies.
The first two Kung Fu Panda films earned DreamWorks around $1.3bn at the worldwide box office. With such a strong financial incentive, the continued adventures of Po and friends were virtually guaranteed. Kung Fu Panda 3 introduces a handful of new characters to the universe and gives the heroes yet another bland villain to dispatch whilst learning how to be better to each other in the process. In the climate of inventive animation that has produced the likes of Inside Out and the Despicable Me franchise, this sort of adherence to formula is a real disappointment.
Po (Jack Black) is trying to assume the role of teaching the Furious Five after the retirement of Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). His lack of authority leaves Tigress (Angelina Jolie) and friends worrying about their futures, particularly as the villainous Kai (JK Simmons) is stealing the “chi” that gives other kung fu masters their power. Po is further distracted by the sudden arrival of his biological father Li (Bryan Cranston) and the revelation that there is a secret panda society living out in the hills.
Kung Fu Panda 3 does an admirable job of establishing some interesting ideas and concepts that can potentially be explored further if the franchise continues. The notion of “chi” is one that bears further exploration and the arrival of Po’s true father opens up a whole new world in which Po is no longer a fish out of water and has somewhere to truly belong. It feels like the completion of the character’s journey across the three films of the franchise, but also one that could yield new stories.
You’re seriously afraid? Even Master Chicken’s going in, and he’s a chicken!
Unfortunately, that’s probably where the intrigue ends. Outside of those new concepts, Kung Fu Panda 3 walks a path well-trodden by just about every major animated franchise Hollywood has churned out over the course of the last decade. In the face of the mediocre plotting and identikit characters, the attempts to deepen the characters and universe seem worse than futile. Everyone involved seems to be going through the motions, slipping into characters that require little more than to speak the lines and wait for the big fat cheque to arrive in the post.
There is some intrigue to the visuals of Kung Fu Panda 3, with occasional flourishes that recall the visual invention of other animation studios like Pixar and Ghibli. Some of the fight sequences have this level of invention, but that fails to make up for the bland, charisma-free work elsewhere. The reveal of the panda refuge, for example, has none of the colour or excitement that such an important moment should have had. Even the finale, set deep within the spirit realm, lacks any of the outside of the box creative thinking that could have made it a great idea.
It also doesn’t help that Kung Fu Panda 3 struggles for laughs and has a real problem with creating any sort of emotional investment. The film’s plot sees the very essence of many of the main characters stolen by the villain, but there never feels as if there is any jeopardy or risk that they won’t make it out of the predicament. In the pursuit of colourful animation, the film forgets to delve within its characters and give the audience a reason to care about them. Even the parenting drama at the centre of this threequel fails to rise above generic fare. The presence of an unamusing quipping villain also leads to a diminishing of the film’s stakes.
Never underestimate the impact of a dramatic entrance.
The Kung Fu Panda franchise is a clear example of Hollywood’s tendency to stick steadfastly to a formula that has proven itself to work. The jokes are the same, the characters haven’t really evolved all that much and the one-note premise still mostly holds true. Given that Kung Fu Panda 3 has already managed in excess of $400m worldwide, though, it would be reasonable to expect that we are going to be seeing these characters for a long time yet.
Pop or Poop?
Few risks are taken and no one breaks a sweat in Kung Fu Panda 3, which frankly could have been stitched together by executives in a committee room. Pretty pictures and occasional creativity cannot save a movie that simply has no desire to go beyond what it needs to be to put kids in their cinema seats and have them leave relatively satisfied.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.