A Dream Works animation with the number ‘3’ in its title is enough to raise anyone’s alarm bells; after the disastrous cash grabs that were Shrek 3 and Ice Age 3 , you would be forgiven for being leery about this film. However, though Kung Fu Panda 3 may not be as strong as the franchise’s previous entries, it still has the heart, beautiful animation and lovable characterisation that made the previous entries so enjoyable.
In this film, Po has finally become comfortable in his role as Dragon Warrior when Master
Shifu informs him he’s going to take over training the Furious Five. After a hilariously disastrous first day, he meets a Panda who tells him that not only is he his dad, but that there are other Pandas in the world. However, as the two begin to catch up, a new villain called Kai emerges from the Spirit Realm, and he has the power to steal a foe’s ‘chi’ and turn them into jade warriors for his own personal army. It is said that only a master of ‘chi’ can defeat him, and guess who are known to be renowned chi masters? The pandas. Of course, it supposedly take years of dedicated training to master chi, but you know the Kung Fu Panda formula; Po manages to master skills in five minutes that takes supporting characters years of dedicated training to learn because he’s the main character and destiny says he is just more special than everyone else (my biggest peeve with this franchise). Po joins his father on a journey to the secret Panda village and reconnect with his father, earn what it means to be a Panda, master chi and save China from Kai.
As you would expect with any Kung Fu Panda film, the animation is absolutely gorgeous, from its fluid fight sequences, great character designs and beautiful backgrounds.Jack Black is brilliant again as Po, the lovable goof ball who is a funny, Kung Fu fanboy but with depth of feeling that lifts him above a mere comic relief character. The film’s other biggest strengths are Shifu, who’s never ending bemusement with Po being made the Dragon Warrior is always hilarious (and matches my own); and Mr Ping- a worry wort who loves his adopted son and always tries to do his best for his son. I enjoyed the action sequences and although they weren’t as tense as the fight sequences from the previous film, were still enjoyable to watch.
The biggest problem I have with the film I have is the same problem Po has with his physique: the flabby middle section. We spend a long time with Po and his father doing crazy Panda hi-jinks, which really slowed the story down and felt pointless. A lot of the children in the cinema found the Pandas doing cute-and-funny-things entertaining, but when compared with the tight plotting of the second entry, I couldn’t help but drum my fingers and wait for Po to actually start trying to learn how to deal with Kai. It also didn’t help that it really clashed with the urgency of the threat; Kai is charging through China dominating martial arts masters left, right and centre while Po left his hometown without its greatest warrior (the Furious Five’s ability to anything without Po diminishes with each film)- yet we spent a good part of the film watching him scoff rice balls and nap. There were also just way too many characters in this film: we already had Po, Master Oogway,the furious five, Mr Ping and Master Shifu. Now, we are being introduced to Kai, Po’s father, Mei Mei (what was the point of her?) and a village full of Pandas. It did a good job of not getting bogged down considering, but there were just too many characters for one film.
Another problem is how much the film undermined the villain. After defeating Master Oogway and possessing the power to create a jade army out of conquered foes while using their chi to increase his strength, Kai is the most powerful foe Po has faced yet. However, his strength is greatly diminished by the running joke about characters not knowing who he is, and by Po’s lack of urgency in getting stronger.The film would have been better if the middle focused on Po rising to meet the threat, rather than cute Panda antics (because we had seen enough of that with Po and his dad laying waste to a Kung Fu museum). It would have been better if Kai was solely focused on defeating the Pandas and the Furious Five were left in their village with their dignity in tact (seriously, they got anihilated; all they seem to do is beat some mooks and then get thrashed by the big bad so Po looks even stronger by comparison). Then, we could have focused on Po and the dynamic between him and Mr Ping and Li, because Po’s relationship with his father and adoptive father was where the heart was. Mr Ping’s fear of losing his heart and his well meaning worry wart behavior was endearing, and the one surprising tear jerker was when Po and Li remembered his mother. It was a beautiful sequence, and that alone deserves to get Kung Fu Panda 3 an Oscar nomination for animation (though of course, the actual award should go to Zootropolis).
As it stands however, Kung Fu Panda 3 may not be the strongest entry in the franchise, but it’s still entertaining, beautiful and even has some heart warming moments. I think with this entry, the film franchise has probably run its course, but this is a strong finishing point for a franchise that has been an entertaining ride.