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Kung Fu Panda 3
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by Jay Seaver

"Still entertaining,but getting stretched a bit thin."
3 stars

"Kung Fu Panda 2" ended with a tease of a hidden panda village, which makes it surprising to me that DreamWorks let four and a half years pass before following that up. Sure, that's partly just how it goes with animation - this stuff takes time - but it's a heck of a long gap considering that the kids who loved the first back in 2008 are teenagers by now, probably feeling like they've outgrown this sort of thing. And while these movies are still plenty of fun, they haven't exactly grown up with their audience.

Before reuniting title character Po (voice of Jack Black) with his long-lost biological father Li Shan (voice of Bryan Cranston), the film introduces its villain: Kai (voice of JK Simmons), a former friend of Master Oogway (voice of Randall Duk Kim) dispatched to the spirit realm 500 years ago when he tried to use the pandas' chi techniques to conquer the world and since forgotten. As Kai escapes to the mortal realm, Master Shifu (voice of Dustin Hoffman) announces his plans to retire and put Po in charge of training, although both Li's arrival and Kai's approach will have the adopted Po seeking to reconnect with his panda roots, especially if that's how he can learn how to harness chi and defeat Kai.

In the same way that the first Kung Fu Panda seemed like a stroke of obvious genius for making characters to match animal-inspired fighting styles, the opening scenes of this movie are a delight: It's every trippy "higher plane" scene from a fantasy wuxia film realized in a way that even the best wire-fu and digital backlot techniques can't quite manage, and that it involves an ox and a turtle doesn't really matter. Heck, that helps keep the audience from getting jolted out of the picture because the characters are doing things that they shouldn't be able to. As expected, this sort of scene demonstrates just how well DreamWorks animators use 3D, as in addition to how great their rendering engine is throughout. Aside from the tech, the filmmakers do a great job of filling the screen with good-looking stuff without it becoming too much for the adults in the audience, even during a big action scene where Po and half a dozen other kung fu matters have enough to keep them busy. They get a lot of good jokes out of their menagerie of characters as well.

That's what one should reasonably expect from a Kung Fu Panda movie, and this one has the sort of core that gives it a leg up on being a good individual movie, with Po discovering his Panda heritage and culture, much to the concern of the goose who raised him. That Panda culture basically involves lying around and eating is maybe not necessarily ideal from certain perspectives, of course (one hopes adopted kids don't absorb the lesson that the heritage they may be curious about is laziness), but it gives the filmmakers a chance to pivot and make a point about taking advantage of individual gifts. It would be nice if this all worked a bit better together, although there is something to be said about kids' movies having themes more than trying to pound messages home.

This being a little scattered thematically does highlight what has been a bit of a recurring issue as these series reach their third entries or so: They become simultaneously too crowded and lightweight. It's to the filmmakers' credit that Po doesn't forget the lessons of previous adventures and have to relearn them again, but his being more well-rounded and mature makes his new adventure seem a bit less important than the one that changed him in a fundamental way. Meanwhile, all the other returning characters have even less to do because they no longer clash with Po so much, but they mean that there is very little room for the new set of characters to distinguish themselves as being favorites or even worthwhile toy purchases.

That kind of sinks for the voice cast, I imagine; the fun group of people voicing the supporting characters - Jackie Chan, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, David Cross, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, Kate Hudson - can't distinguish themselves, but might as well show up for an afternoon's work. James Hong gets more to do, but basically one note, and JK Simmons handles the villain well enough. Bryan Cranston winds up being a great choice for Li Shan, of course; Cranston is always a great choice, and handles both the goofy and regretful sides of the character well. Jack Black does what he was cast for a decade ago, and that's kind of impressive on both his part and that of the filmmakers - Po is a creature of honest enthusiasm that's got to be grating or contagious on demand, and that is more consistently becoming charming is the opposite of what one might expect.

The series reaches what would be a fairly natural end here, although it seems likely that DreamWorks will try to squeeze at least one more entry out of it. If they do, It will probably be like this one only a bit more so - too many enjoyable parts for almost any to get their due, but still entertaining and great-looking enough to be a fun afternoon at the movies.

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originally posted: 02/03/16 16:36:47
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User Comments

2/23/16 mp4movieshub Gorgeous movie. The landscapes and settings are as good as the Good Dinosaur. 5 stars
2/08/16 Tony Brubaker I want to bugger Lucy Liu. 5 stars
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  29-Jan-2016 (PG)
  DVD: 28-Jun-2016


  DVD: 28-Jun-2016

Directed by
  Jennifer Yuh

Written by
  Jonathan Aibel
  Glenn Berger

  Jack Black
  Dustin Hoffman
  David Cross
  James Hong
  Angelina Jolie
  Seth Rogen

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