I am probably going to get a ton of flack for saying this but I honestly think that the Kung Fu Panda-series is one of the best movie trilogies out there, at least in recent memory. Granted, the movies aren’t amazing– they’re essentially films for children after all, but I haven’t seen a more consistently solid series in quite sometime. If Kung Fu Panda 3 ends up being the final movie in the series then this was a very strong finish! Say what you want about Jack Black as an actor, I know many people loathe him, but as a voice actor and especially as Po, the loveable and squishy panda with a ‘no-quit’ attitude, Black seems to have found his stride. Maybe it is because you cannot see Jack Black physically overacting? I am not entirely sure…
Living large and loving life, Po (Jack Black) realizes that he has a lot to learn if he’s going to fulfill the next challenge from his beloved instructor (Dustin Hoffman). After reuniting with his long-lost father (Bryan Cranston), Po must transition from student to teacher and train a group of fun-loving, clumsy pandas to become martial-arts fighters. Together, the kung-fu brethren unite to take on the evil Kai (J.K. Simmons), a supernatural warrior who becomes stronger with each battle.
They really did a solid job creating both a menacing and cool villain in this film, which is a touch order for any film let alone a movie with a target audience made up of children. Kai, voiced by the great J.K. Simmons, is fairly likable unlike the villain from Kung Fu Panda Two. I think that is due in large part to the fact that, like the villain from the first film, the character if Kai is somewhat relatable. The previous film’s villain was far too dark, giving the entire film a heavier tone and making the villain someone you WANTED to see killed. Kai, on the other hand, isn’t just motivated by the quest for power (even though Kai himself might try to convince you otherwise). In fact, he is more driven by revenge or hatred of his former friend, the late and great Master Oogway who had betrayed him some 500 years ago. Also, in the beginning of the film, Po and Master Shifu, discuss the importance of a good entrance, “before the battle of the fists,” Shifu states, “comes the battle of the mind!” right before making a sweet entrance of his own. And it felt like the writers of the movie really took their own advice as every single time Kai came into frame he made an awesome and menacing entrance complete with great music! All-in-all, Kai was a great villain with only one on-screen flaw: I simply wanted to see more of his backstory as well as Oogway’s it seemed so awesome and epic! Maybe we will get to see Prequels?
Another element that this series offers is actual character growth and progression. Far too many franchises have their characters make certain strides and breakthroughs within a given movie, only for the character to have to start from scratch in the very next installment. The KFP series doesn’t suffer from that pitfall… I mean it does to some degree– each movie Po has to learn something new, but he never seems to backtrack… once he learns a new skill, he utilizes it in battle and retains it for the next movies. In this film, the next step for Po to take is to become a teach, he is still great at Kung Fu, but a horrible teacher. His struggle only continues when he needs to train an extremely out of shape village of lovable Pandas Kung Fu before the sinister and dangerous Kai finds them. But the movie is just as much about Po teaching Kung Fu as it is about Po learning who he is as a person. He struggles with the idea of what it means to be the “Dragon Warrior” and even what it means to be a Panda and before he can stop Kai, he must learn who he is.
It might be the way the movie was written, but the humor in this movie is awesome. Like, I was dying to see this film right from the very first teaser trailer that housed Po and his biological father meeting for the first time and not realizing that they are related. To put this in context, Po thought he was the LAST Panda on earth, not to see the resemblance immediately is just hilarious. Add that to his father NOT seeing a resemblance either when he is actively looking for his son that he lost when he was a baby and you have ridiculousness that is just amazing to see. I am sure that I haven’t done this teaser any justice, so I will show it below! But everyone in this movie is hilarious, even Dustin Hoffman’s Master Shifu has softened up with the progression of the series and with that softening, comes a lot more jokes from the character.
If this film suffers from any flaws, and they are few and far between, it is from two simple things: One, I wanted to see more of his friends. We got to see a solid amount of Tigress, but scenes with Mantis, Crane, Viper and Monkey were very much lacking in this film. Which makes me a bit sad because what little we get to see them in this movie, they were friggin’ gold. Seth Rogen in particular needs to do way more voice acting… I have come to that conclusion after listening to him in the KFP series, Paul and Monsters Vs. Aliens. There is something about his dopey voice that works well in cute digital characters! The second flaw in the film is that I wish the final battle of Po vs Kai would have been a more epic one. There was very little to see in terms of a one-on-one battle, but I understand what the writers we going for, I just wanted more Kung Fu from a movie with it actually written in its title– but that is pretty minor in the grand scheme of the overall movie.
Obvious a movie like Kung Fu Panda 3 will never win any awards… as a standalone movie it is still very good, but as a franchise, it is excellent. Not Toy Story-level but still pretty impressive.The film does not skimp on the cost of voice acting and it shows, everyone in this film is perfectly cast and no one really outshines another. The way the film melds comedy and fairly heavy stories like a father losing and finding his son is also extremely impressive and the story actually ties all three movies together in a sort of mythos for Po that you do not get out of other franchises. I don’t know if this will be the best animated film of the year, but so far it is at the top of my list!
Here is the teaser trailer below: