Directed by: Jennifer Yuh & Alessandro Carloni.
Written by: Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger.
Starring: Jack Black (Po), Bryan Cranston (Li), Dustin Hoffman (Shifu), Angelina Jolie (Tigress), J.K. Simmons (Kai), Jackie Chan (Monkey), Seth Rogen (Mantis), Lucy Liu (Viper), David Cross (Crane), Kate Hudson (Mei Mei), James Hong (Mr. Ping), Randall Duk Kim (Oogway), Steele Gagnon (Bao), Liam Knight (Lei Lei), Wayne Knight (Big Fun / Hom-Lee).
No, we really didn’t need a third Kung Fu Panda movie. The original film from 2008, was inventive and original – and one of those surprise animated movies that actually work well for adults as well. The 2011 sequel, was in a word fine, but also completely forgettable. As lovable as a character as Po is, two trips to this well was probably enough to satisfy anyone. But as the parent of a movie loving 4 year old, I was obliged to see Kung Fu Panda 3 – and to my pleasant surprise, I found the whole thing quite enjoyable. No, it doesn’t do anything terribly original for this series – it’s more of the same really, although there is more talk about chi than perhaps any movie in history. Perhaps waiting five years before making the third film was the best decision – it allowed time for the audience to miss Po and company a little bit.
The story this time involves the departed master Oogway, who has remained as calm in death as he was in life, who is confronted by his old partner turned nemesis Kai in the Spirit Realm 500 years after Oogway banished him there. Kai is one pissed off bull, who has stolen the aforementioned chi from many masters in the spirit realm – he keeps them encased in jade in his belt, and can unleash them at will. With Oogway's chi, Kai will be able to return to the Living Realm – where he immediately sets his sites on the students on Oogway. An old screen Oogway wrote says that only a true master of chi can defeat Kai – and there aren’t any masters anymore – not even master Shifu. Meanwhile, Po's biological father, Li, has finally tracked him down – and wants to bring him back to a secret Panda village to learn how to be a Panda. That village was mentioned, of course, by Oogway in that scroll – where he states the Pandas there taught him all about chi. So if Po is going to beat Kai – who has stolen the chi of almost all the other masters in China (including most of Po’s friends) – he will need the help of the pandas.
It’s probably best not to examine this plot – or what chi really is – too deeply. The movie basically just uses this as a way to force Po to have to learn something new all over again, like he had to do in the first movie. And it works. Jack Black has always had a lot of fun as Po, and he once again does a wonderful job in this film with the role. The supporting cast is in top form as always – including newcomers Bryan Cranston, having fun as Li, and JK Simmons, who makes a menacing villain as Kai. The returning supporting cast is mainly shunted aside – although Dustin Hoffman as Shifu and Davis Cross as Crane have a few nice moments, and James Hong is a delight as Mr. Ping, Po’s adopted father. The action sequences are well animated and exciting. The message of the film – that you can accomplish more working together as a team, and the importance of being yourself, is obvious, but effective.
So no, we didn’t really need Kung Fu Panda 3. The film breaks no new ground for the series. Yet, it is still a delightful and fun animated film, and has yet to descend in annoying joke-y pointlessness like the Shrek movies did by the end. The film is not very ambitious – but it does exactly what it sets out to do.