Tweetable Takeaway: Po the panda’s third kung fu outing entertains, but suffers from an unfocused storyline Tweet
To hear of a film combining the acting talents of Bryan Cranston, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, J.K. Simmons, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross and multiple others, one could only imagine the caliber of film to bring so many stars together. The film to unite such a cast? An animated panda who knows kung fu. Perhaps slightly less impressive, especially taking into account a good chunk of those voices have less than ten lines. Still, regardless of the celebrity lending his or her voice to the cartoon, it’s the story and characters that count, and the Kung Fu Panda franchise has often delivered on that front. However, Po the panda, voiced by Jack Black, is starting to sag in his third outing. Although KUNG FU PANDA 3 boasts spectacular visuals and fight sequences, it suffers from pacing and a padded out storyline. Young kids will have a blast, but more discerning youths and adults won’t enjoy themselves as much.
All is peaceful in the fictional Chinese alternate universe populated solely by animals, until Kai, a tremendously evil yak ghost, steals enough chi energy in the spirit realm to return to the mortal plane. Hey, it happens. Kai (perfectly voiced by J.K. Simmons) is out for more chi to feed his addiction, so he heads to Po and The Gang’s village to take their chi. Obtaining chi in the film is a bloodless, child-appropriate process of turning foes into little green trinkets to hang on a charm bracelet. Meanwhile, retiring teacher Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) has entrusted Po with teaching kung fu in his stead. Po fails miserably, cue the physical humor. Up until this point in the movie, the storyline is relatively focused and concise. However, the following day Po’s biological father, Li (Bryan Cranston) shows up, much to the chagrin of Po’s adopted goose father, Mr. Ping (Mr. Hong).
It’s at this moment the film finds itself with one too many dumplings on its plate. What has so far been a movie involving an evil yak and Po having feelings of inadequacy as a kung fu master, now adds a father vs. father dynamic. Po’s panda dad wants to bring him back to the secret village of pandas, and in doing so Po will learn the secrets of chi to defeat Kai. Rather than unite these story threads into one thematically strong film, the thread starts to unravel in multiple directions that simply lead to sight gags or physical humor. These moments, such as Po rolling down a hill and hitting his head on several rocks, certainly delight young children, but the rest of the audience are left wanting more.
Of course, the film does manage to bring itself at least partly full circle by having Po train the village of pandas to fight Kai. The training comes surprisingly easy at this point, everyone learns their lesson, and conflicts are resolved in a neat bow. The final setpiece is extended and immensely enjoyable to be sure, it’s only too bad the rest of the film’s story couldn’t be at the same level of quality. And once the dust has settled and the fighting has stopped, it’s clear the dueling fathers throughout the film could easily have been excised and the film would have improved for the better. Also, for a movie called Kung Fu Panda 3, there could easily have been a plethora of martial arts battles with the littlest of motivation and most moviegoers wouldn’t have batted an eye. Strangely, though, the film favors lengthy scenes filled with exposition over fight scenes. The film adds in Po falling down or getting hit by stuff as the exposition wears on, but it’s only applying a half-torn band-aid to the inherent problem of scenes relying heavily on dialogue to get information across.
Kung Fu Panda 3 gets a lot right. Gorgeous animation, thrilling fight sequences, and a formidable villain are among its strengths. There’s plenty in here to sustain interest for the film’s running time, especially younger moviegoers. It’s the unfocused storyline, meandering plot, and dialogue-heavy scenes where the movie falters. Kung Fu Panda will fit the bill for keeping young ones entertained for 90 minutes, but won’t be a movie they seek out to watch again and again as they grow older.
I give Kung Fu Panda 3 3 dumplings out of 5
Score: 3 out of 5
Wil Loper | Contributor