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Review: Kung Fu Panda 3

February 4, 2016

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Kung Fu Panda 3 PosterThe latest tale in DreamWorks Animation’s surprisingly engaging saga, Kung Fu Panda 3 finds unlikely Dragon Warrior Po (Jack Black) reunited with his birth father (Bryan Cranston), and taken back to the secret panda village where he was born.

But all of China is being threatened by the jade sword-wielding Kai (J.K. Simmons), an ancient supernatural being who has returned to earth from the spirit realm, gaining power by stealing the chi of past kung fu warriors, including Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim).  This forces Po to channels his inner teacher and train his bumbling panda brethren to help defeat Kai, and protect Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and the rest of the Furious Five.

This journey also finds Po struggling to find his own inner peace, as he learns how to tap into and embrace the almost meditative eating and sleeping rhythms of the panda lifestyle, while still maintaining a relationship with his adoptive goose father Mr. Ping (James Hong).  There are a few great sequences in the spirit world, and Kung Fu Panda 3 has some beautiful ideas about the way the energy of every living thing is connected.  The film is attuned with traditional Chinese beliefs, and full of spiritual undertones, introducing eastern philosophies about channeling and balancing our own chi.

The film does a good job of building upon the narrative of the first two, and co-directors Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni clearly have a lot of personal affection for these characters, crafting another brisk adventure for them.  At times, Kung Fu Panda 3 actually moves too fast, with the action and constant jokes sometimes not stopping long enough for the quieter moments to really sink in.  The climax arrives before we know it, and just as the film reaches an emotional crescendo, it ends with a big kung fu dance number that takes us right into the credits.  The target audience of kids won’t even notice these pacing problems, but they keep the film from being as strong overall as it could have been.

But in its best moments, Kung Fu Panda 3 is a solid threequel that allows us to spend more time in this always enjoyable world, with some of the most breathtaking animation of the series, once again mixing vibrant characters with lush backgrounds.  Delivering plenty of wit, including some amusing jokes about “panda asthma,” and enough touching moments and heartfelt themes to make it resonate with audiences of all ages, Kung Fu Panda 3 is as likeable and appealing as its cuddly title protagonist.

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