By: Andrew Haas
When it comes to Dreamworks Animation’s franchises, the Kung Fu Panda films are among my favorites next to How To Train Your Dragon. The first film was hilarious with great action and the second film, I thought, actually managed to surpass the original. So that was putting a lot of pressure on the third installment. Thankfully, it did not disappoint.
Po, voiced by Jack Black, returns and is reunited with his true father Lin Shan, voiced by Bryan Cranston. The two head to a secret panda village where Po learns more about his roots. But a new threat emerges from the spirit realm and is after the chi of all kung fu masters. Now Po must prepare all the pandas to fight back.
The aspect of these films that keeps improving the most with each installment is the animation. This has to be some of, if not the most beautiful animation I’ve seen from Dreamworks. What makes this one stand out is how stylized it is. The colors here just blossom and glow, like something out of a painting. I saw it in 3D and while I’m sure seeing it in the regular format won’t detract from the experience, the added dimension made the visuals pop even more. The look of this film does a great job presenting old Chinese culture and landscapes. There were even a couple moments that utilized traditional animation mixed with old Chinese text. On top of that, the slapstick and action are very well done. The animators really know how to play around with martial arts with each animal having their own distinct style.
The characters are still a lot of fun. Po may have mastered a lot, but it’s nice that he still gets so much excitement out of kung fu and its history. Master Shifu and the Furious Five are still great secondary characters with great interactions with one another. Po’s adopted father, voiced by James Hong, plays a bigger role this time around as there is conflict between him and the actual father. Speaking of which, Li Shan makes for a fun addition to the cast as he tries to teach his son about what it means to be a panda. Honestly the weakest character in the film is the villain Kai, voiced by J.K. Simmons. That isn’t saying much as I thought he was still a good antagonist with some funny lines and cool abilities, but it’s just hard to top the great villains of the last two installments.
The plot itself isn’t the greatest as it has some clichés and Po’s journey now seems to be a bit repetitive in these films. But it’s still a funny, nicely told story. The humor is very witty and works great with some of the animated slapstick. Even the drama works well. There are strong themes of family and self discovery with Po relating to his father as well as trying to be a teacher and master chi. I’m always kind of surprised how mature these films can actually be. Despite having clicés, there are directions it takes that actually shocked me in the right ways.
I don’t know if this will be the last film, but if it is, then Kung Fu Panda 3 is a satisfying conclusion. It may not be the best in the series, but it is still a solid experience. The animation is gorgeous, the characters are great with solid voice acting, and the overall theme is very touching. If this is how January is ending, then it went off with a bang for once. I highly recommend this film, especially for kids and those who already love the first two.