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Kung Fu Panda 3 continues from the last as Po (Jack Black), the Dragon Warrior, and his Furious Five friends, Master Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Master Crane (David Cross), Master Mantis (Seth Rogen), Master Viper (Lucy Liu), and Master Monkey (Jackie Chan) keep the peace in the serene valley. Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), their teacher, announces his retirement and places Po in charge, which does not go so well, though no one really thought it would. Feeling a bit disillusioned with himself, he heads back to the noodle restaurant his adopted father, Mr. Ping (James Hong), owns and there is met by a very big (both emotionally and physically) surprise. His real father, named Li Shan (Bryan Cranston) has come to town to take Po back to the Secret Panda Village. This doesn’t sit well with Ping, who becomes very jealous at Po’s sudden adoration of a father’s he’s just met.
Meanwhile, in the Chinese Spirit Realm, Grand Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) is at odds with an old enemy named Kai (J. K. Simmons). In the fight, Oogway loses his ‘chi’ but warns Kai that the Dragon Warrior will be the one to defeat him. Kai falls to Earth and with his supernatural powers, gives jade statues of ancient warriors life and has them attack the Valley of Peace, prompting the Furious Five and Po to fight. Though they win the battle, they learn who Kai is and his devious intent. Master Shifu explains that only a warrior who has mastered chi can face Kai so Po takes up the challenge.
There’s really nothing new but more characters in this third installment, though it concentrates a lot more on the fighting and action, but still offers a lot of laughs and ‘cute’ for the kids. Fast-paced and brightly animated, the film is exceptionally well-crafted, even if there is nearly no suspense or question about the fate of the heroes. As mentioned, Po, at least physically, is indestructible even if that’s not the animator’s intent. He absorbs damage from hits, kicks, falls, and blunders that would absolutely kill anyone else, but this story isn’t about that kind of pain. Dealing more with inner angst and confidence, Po is one who has achieved incredible heights of success but is still a self-effacing, uncertain bear who never quite realizes the enormity of his position. That eternal humility makes him endearing enough, even for a third time. The thing with this kind of sequel, like superhero movies and James Bond films, there’s little to do but make spectacles bigger, enemies larger, and action longer as we follow along on the very narrow path to the final conflict and the redemption. At least Kung-fu Panda makes that journey fun to look at, with astonishing visuals and art direction, very likable characters, and excellent dialog, even if the setting, language, and contemporary slang don’t altogether make sense.
No one watching Kung Fu Panda 3 is going to expect much more than it delivers. The three stories, all taking place in relatively the same environments with interchangeable bad-guys are starting to blend together, and the high-octane, dumpling-loving Po is just edging close to schmaltz, but is held in check enough here to keep this another colorful, predictable and very safe experience.
Directors: Alessandro Carloni, Jennifer Yuh
Writers: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
Stars: Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, Dustin Hoffman