While visually gorgeous and entertaining, the third installment of the Kung Fu Panda series is a comedown from the previous two films. Kung Fu Panda 3 is the embodiment of what is wrong with Hollywood. Now, no one would ever blame Dreamworks for attempting to do a third installment of the wildly successful franchise, as it’s brought in a worldwide gross of $1.3 billion. Sometimes, the best idea is to quit while you’re ahead.
The film picks up on Kung Fu Panda 2‘s cliffhanger, with the discovery that Po’s real father (Bryan Cranston) survived the massacre of the panda clans and now knows his son (Jack Black) survived as well. The reunion comes at an awkward moment, with Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) announcing his retirement from teaching and anointing Po as the new instructor of the furious five. But when the evil Kai (J.K. Simmons) escapes from the underworld and begins defeating various kung fu masters, Po discovers that only a kung fu warrior who is a master of chi can overcome this threat. Can Po embrace his newfound panda family and learn the required skills necessary to defeat this new villain?
The film is visually marvelous. Dreamworks once again proves that they are the absolute best when it comes to using 3D to enhance storytelling. It’s worth the price of admission just to see the 3D imagery alone. At the beginning of Kung Fu Panda 3, with little warning, we are treated to a surprisingly intense scrum between two warriors in the afterlife. Even with the amazing 3D the opening sequence exposes the film’s major issue, as the villain is merely a variation on what we’ve seen in the other movies.
In the first two films, the villains were wonderfully developed, fleshed out thoroughly. Ian McShane and Gary Oldman delivered solid voice performances. Ian McShane’s character added quite a spark to the first film and Gary Oldman and painfully humanized his role as the peacock villain in the second movie. J.K. Simmons is decent as an ancient spirit which makes it just back into the real world, but the lack of development in his character causes his role to come off as a just some glorified villain of the day.
Expectations were high for co-director Jennifer Nelson Yuh and Alessandro Carloni, and they attempted to recapture the magic of the first two films. Yuh even went as far as to hire screenwriter Aibel and Glen Berger to try to craft a lighter, less violent, and less psychologically weighted film. The result is a movie that centers around rehashed narratives. The highlight of the film was in the third act when Po’s two dad’s share an emotional heart to heart talk. This heart to heart is a perfect example of the emotional honesty that we’ve come to expect from the franchise.
Kung-Fu Panda 3 is such a titanic wasted opportunity. The Kung-Fu Panda films are synonymous with heart and possessing some emotional center. This one is untenanted and lacking in any complexity that it’s hard not to wonder if Kung-Fu Panda 3 was some vanity project for the directors (Yuh and Carloni). An average effort will always result in an average product. It’s merely a good enough adventure that kids will enjoy. It’s high energy and will keep the little ones entertained enough, but adults will find themselves looking at their watches.