Mark Reviews Movies

Kung Fu Panda 3


3 Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh

Cast: The voices of Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, James Hong, Bryan Cranston, J.K. Simmons, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Kate Hudson

MPAA Rating: PG (for martial arts action and some mild rude humor)

Running Time: 1:35

Release Date: 1/29/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 28, 2016

Kung Fu Panda 3 brings a more-than-satisfactory conclusion to the story of a panda who was dubbed a chosen one seemingly by accident, became a martial arts master by way of his love of food, realized that the goose he believed was his father was not actually his biological father, and constantly asks that age-old question, "Who am I?" That final bit is at the center of the film, as Po (voice of Jack Black) finds himself torn between his roles as a student and as a teacher, his destiny of being the Dragon Warrior and his insecurity that being selected for such a destiny must have been a mistake, and three families—the one that chose him, the one that is stuck with him because of a prophecy, and the one into which he was born.

It's relatively heady stuff for an animated film about a cute and cuddly panda with unlikely martial arts skills and an insatiable appetite, but this third entry benefits from the rather stealthy way the series has garnered affection for its characters. After a dark and narratively confused second installment, returning screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger (who have written all three entries now) bring the series back to the exploring idea of camaraderie while still allowing Po the chance to piece together who he is.

They go hand and hand, really, and that's something that perhaps neither of the previous installments communicated as effectively as this one. Perhaps the series needed the push of needing to provide a sense of resolution to get there.

This installment finds Po and the Furious Five enjoying peace in the Valley of Peace for the first time in a while. With no major villains left to fight, Shifu (voice of Dustin Hoffman), the red panda teacher of the warriors, has decided to retire in order to spend his remaining years studying and mastering chi, the energy that surrounds and unites the natural world. The mentor selects Po to take his place, and the panda's first training session is a spectacular failure, leading to more injuries for Tigress (voice of Angelina Jolie), Monkey (voice of Jackie Chan), Mantis (voice of Seth Rogen), Viper (voice of Lucy Liu), and Crane (voice of David Cross) than any actual learning.

The threat this time comes from Kai (voice of J.K. Simmons), a hulking bull with blades connected to chains attached to his wrists. Kai was vanquished to the spirit realm long ago by the tortoise Oogway (voice of Randall Duk Kim), but now the villain has discovered a way to escape the afterlife. Long since forgotten by all those in the mortal realm, Kai wants to capture the chi of every kung fu master, living or dead, in order to become as renowned across the land as he is in his own mind.

The villain is unimportant in any meaningful way. He exists solely as a standard plot device—a foe that needs to be defeated—and as a reason for Po to leave the valley. The second part comes with the introduction of another panda named Li (voice of Bryan Cranston), who has come to find his lost son, who is obviously Po (In a very funny moment, the fact is obvious to everyone, save for the two pandas).

According to legend, pandas are masters of chi, so Po sets off with his father to a secret village, where pandas have lived in hiding for decades, in order to learn the ways of chi and defeat Kai. Meanwhile, Mr. Ping (voice of James Hong), the goose who adopted Po when the panda was a baby, is immediately jealous and suspicious of Li, and the goose hides in Po's food basket to keep an eye on his son.

It comes as a bit of a shock that it has taken an animated film series about a bunch of kung fu fighting animals for there to be Hollywood movie that takes an honest and sympathetic approach to the experience of adoption. That's what we get here, though, and each of the characters who are involved in that experience—Po, Li, and Mr. Ping—has his say. Po is overcome with the feeling of belonging to a community that is exactly like him, learning the slothful ways of pandas. Li is unsure of how to be a father, especially to a son who has never known him. Mr. Ping is worried that he will lose his son, and there's a genuinely moving moment between the two fathers as the goose explains how his perspective has shifted—from worrying what Li's presence might mean for him to embracing what it will mean for Po.

The sense of camaraderie this time comes from Po teaching his fellow pandas how they can turn their particular skills (rolling down or being slung up a hill, ribbon dancing, kicking beanbags, and, of course, eating) into fighting techniques (The Furious Five, save for Tigress, are otherwise occupied for most of this installment). The screenplay and directors Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh effectively blends humor and moments of surprisingly genuine emotion throughout the film.

This is Po's show, though, which is something, in retrospect, toward which the series has been building. The climax, a free-wheeling fight in the spirit realm, is as much about the panda accepting who he actually is as it is about the dynamics of a brawl in a place where physical laws mean nothing. Kung Fu Panda 3 has a solid message at its core: Identity is not defined by a single thing but by the sum of the various, very different pieces of the life of a person—or, in this case, a panda.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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