There are few movie franchises that stay interesting in the second and third installments – because the studios either go for an easy cash grab or make the subsequent films bigger and louder without much emotion. The Ice Age films have became progressively worse and Madagascar movies have become zanier but more and more inane. So it’s a nice surprise to discover that Kung Fu Panda 3 dodges this curse fairly well by retaining the heart from the original film while still becoming a bigger visual splendor.
Kung Fu Panda 3 doesn’t waste any time in getting to the good stuff – a prologue (like in the original film) tells us about Master Oogway battling in some sort of an after death dimension against Kai (JK Simmons), a Yak who next sets his sights on Panda Po (Jack Black). Back at home Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) announces his retirement and hands over the reigns of training to Po who struggles to take over the mantle and questions his authenticity as the Dragon Warrior. Po then receives a big shock with the arrival of another Panda named Li Shan (Bryan Cranston) who might just be his father.
With a solid base for a narrative, directors Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni make the most of the budget and the cutting edge animation technology to render a movie that doesn’t bore for a single moment. There’s always something hilarious, or action packed, or adventurous, or heartfelt happening on screen. If you loved the off kilter slapstick comedy of the first movie you’ll receive a lot more of the same in this movie.
Po being fat, kind of goofy and awkward is once again mined for comedy, but it’s all directed well enough to never feel repetitive. The Furious Five team of Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Monkey (Jackie Chan) is as heroically star studded as ever, each having a specific role that aids Po on his heroic journey.
Dreamworks have taken their visual palette to another level with this movie – the imagery is richly detailed and deeply memorable. One night scene involving Aurora Borealis flashing as a backdrop to a fight is especially stunning. So it doesn’t matter whether you’re a kid or an adult – the vivid martial arts stuff is just consistently entertaining. It’d be best to see the film in 2D as the 3D glasses have a tendency to dull the visuals. With so much work gone into rendering the animation you’d want to see it on a nice bright flat screen.
The only disappointment in the film is the film’s villain Kai who, after a promising start turns out to be a one-dimensional bad guy without any strong motive. In the first two films both villains had interesting reasons to wreak havoc and kill the good guys, this time it feels like the writers couldn’t come up with new ways to give Po an adversary. Kai is also not very interesting to look at, and is a far cry from the threatening Tai Lung. The filmmakers probably wanted to appeal to the younger kids who would take to a more ‘cartoony’ villain than a truly scary creature.
Moreover, the unmistakable voice of JK Simmons also feels like a distraction because you can feel the actor playing a Yak rather than a character bursting from the screen. With an already star studded cast to voice the film, perhaps it would have been better to cast someone whose voice is relatively unknown.
The Peanuts Movie recently triumphed with substance over star power by casting professional voice actors for the main characters, after an exhausting casting process - and the film’s characters felt genuine. Time for other animation studios to watch and learn.