The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

Follow Us On:



Kung Pow Panda

20th Century Fox
 95 Minutes
Rated: PG
Directed byAlessandro Carloni, Jennifer Yuh 
Starring: Jack Black, Bryan Cranston
Kung Fu Panda 3

By the time they get to a third installment, many movie franchises are running on fumes (remember Beverly Hills Cop 3 or Superman III or even The Godfather: Part III). Having run out of ways to develop their characters or any innovative plot ideas, they merely recycle the same things that worked with audiences previously. Not surprisingly, those same audiences often respond with a collective yawn. Fortunately, Kung Fu Panda 3 proves a welcome exception to that rule and a welcome sight in the usual wasteland of January releases.


The original Kung Fu Panda took a familiar genre, the martial arts film, exploited the fact that various kung fu styles are named after animals, and came up with the idea of animated anthropomorphic tigers, monkeys, praying mantises, and the like as actual martial arts experts. In the role of the unlikely novice who becomes a master, the film used the unlikeliest of all, a good-natured but extremely overweight panda named Po. That framework could be stretched reasonably well for a second film, but the producers doubtless sensed that something new was needed by the time of this third installment.


So, Po (voiced by Jack Black) is back in Kung Fu Panda 3, as are his friends the Tigress (Angelina Jolie), the Mantis (Seth Rogen), the Stork (David Cross), the Monkey (Jackie Chan), and the Viper (Lucy Liu). Their teacher, Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), is retiring and has appointed Po as his successor. But Po, despite having bested all sorts of evil kung fu masters in the first two movies, is still unsure of himself. At this point, the new element enters Kung Fu Panda 3, in the form of Po’s birth father, Li Shan (Bryan Cranston). Po is overjoyed to see his father and soon agrees to go with him to the secret panda village high in the mountains. There, he fits right in with the dozens of similarly overweight, out-of-shape inhabitants of the village. 


Of course, this wouldn’t be a Kung Fu Panda movie if evil wasn’t afoot somewhere, and this time it comes all the way from the spirit realm, where an angry bull of a kung fu master named Kai (J.K. Simmons) wants to become the greatest master of all time. To do so, he must fight and defeat all the other masters and, by doing so, steal their chi (a mystical life force that looks like a glowing white coin). Whenever Kai does best another master and steals his foe’s chi, that opponent becomes a zombie-like spirit doing Kai’s bidding.


While Po is away in panda-land, Kai beats most of Po’s old friends, including Shifu. Then, with an army of defeated masters and other stooges at his beck and call, Kai sets out to the panda village to do battle with the unsuspecting Po. Fortunately, Tigress is able to get away in time and warn Po, but Po is now even less sure of his abilities against the supernaturally formidable Kai.


Fortunately, Po soon learns that he won’t have to do battle against Kai’s forces alone. In addition to Tigress and Ping (James Hong), an awkward goose who adopted Po as a baby and followed him to the panda village, the rest of the villagers rally to Po’s defense as well. The “it takes a village” metaphor is obvious here, but it’s quite well done. For, instead of using traditional kung fu tactics against the invaders, the villagers instead adopt defensive measures based on what they already do well (mostly involving eating and playing).


These notions of friendship and family, hackneyed as they may be, give Kung Fu Panda 3 just the right amount of emotional weight the movie needs to counterbalance the usual heavy dose of Oriental philosophy that gets doled out. I’ll be the first one to admit that I didn’t follow a lot of the talk about chi in the movie, and if I couldn’t, then the 10-year-olds in the audience probably couldn’t either. It’s no coincidence that the dullest sequences in the movie are the most exposition-laden. However, everyone understands the concepts of meeting up with family and the jealousy between adoptive and birth fathers for Po’s affections. There’s some schmaltz here, but, considering that this is an animated film largely marketed at children, Panda never becomes cloying.


Unlike many current animated films, there’s no subtext or “Easter egg” in-jokes aimed at the adults in the audience. Instead, the humor is pretty basic, mostly physical comedy aimed at both young and old in the audience. That means that adults may get weary at some of the fight scenes that go on a bit too long, but a lot of the jokes rely on clever visuals that are just as effective with older viewers.


Indeed, it’s the remarkable animation that makes Kung Fu Panda 3 work. The various animals are individually and carefully rendered to give each one a unique personality. The greatest attention has been paid to Po. As the series has progressed, Po has morphed from a generic large panda to a panda version of Jack Black. Po’s features, expressions, and movements channel Black, and adults will easily identify Po with Black, just as if the panda were one of Black’s human characters.


The producers leave the door open for yet another Kung Fu Panda movie by dangling the prospect of romance between Po and a villager who appears for the first time here, the lovely Mei Mei (Kate Hudson). But, for me at least, the franchise seems to have run its course. I would never spoil the ending of any movie, but it’s not hard to guess what eventually happens. The feeling audiences will have when exiting the theater after seeing Kung Fu Panda 3 is pretty much the same as they would after a large meal of Chinese comfort food. It’s not a gourmet experience, but it leaves people feeling pleasantly content.

Read other reviews of Kung Fu Panda 3:


Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016) on IMDb