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Kung Fu Panda 3 - Is the Third Time the Charm for Fat Pandas?

Matthew Parkinson | 30 Jan 2016 16:00
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Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni. Produced by Melissa Cobb. Written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger. Release date: January 29, 2016.

DreamWorks Animation hasn't met a franchise it doesn't like, so here the studio comes with Kung Fu Panda 3. This isn't a film that exists because there's a good story to be told, or because these characters are particularly interesting to explore; it's here because the two previous movies each grossed over $600 million worldwide. It's an obligatory film and a good business decision. The surprise for audiences is that's it's also perfectly fine - even, at times, good - which is a first for the studio when it comes to the third installment of a trilogy.

Kung Fu Panda 3 sees its lovable panda hero, Po (voice of Jack Black), have to face a new foe in Kai (J.K. Simmons), a bull who had been banished to the Spirit Realm for half a millennium, but has now returned in order to steal the chi (read: kill, but for kids) of all the warriors across the land. So, it's up to Po and the Furious Five members to stop him. Except that they can't. The only way to defeat Kai is by becoming a Chi master, something that not even Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), can teach.

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Conveniently, Po's biological father (Bryan Cranston) shows up and tells Po of a secret panda village, where Po can learn to become a Chi master. It all builds up to a confrontation between Po and Kai, as you'd expect if you've seen either of the previous Kung Fu Panda films, or ever watched a single movie in which there was a protagonist and antagonist. There are a couple of unsurprising "surprises" along the way, and a couple of minor action scenes thrown in, but mostly we're just doing the "Po needs to learn a new skill to defeat a bigger enemy" story.

It feels a lot like the first film, both in the simplicity of its story, what that story contains, and in the way it winds up being almost entirely focused on Po, leaving its supporting cast members wondering what to do with themselves. You have an all-star vocal cast here, with the likes of Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, Kate Hudson, and David Cross, as well as the aforementioned Bryan Cranston, Dustin Hoffman, and J.K. Simmons. But it becomes the Jack Black show once again as he learns how to "be a panda." That's fine, and often funny, but a disappointment given the assortment of characters from which the film could draw.

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