After two installments documenting a panda’s journey to find himself, “Kung Fu Panda 3,” which is out in theaters today, finally satisfies its protagonist and the audience by uniting the Dragon Warrior with his origins. Given that the preceding chapter closes with a glimpse of the fabled panda village of the mountains, it seems fitting that this film at long last introduces the titular Kung Fu Panda, Po — voiced by Jack Black — to his home village. Like its prequels, the film’s ample dynamism and humorous battle scenes do not disappoint.
In the film, which is directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni, Po finally meets his biological father, Li Shan — voiced by Bryan Cranston — and the remainder of the community he never knew as an orphan. However, with the reappearance of the treacherous warrior Kai — voiced by J.K. Simmons — Po has little time to relax and is tasked with uniting the powers of his fellow pandas and the Furious Five — Master Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Master Viper (Lucy Liu), Master Monkey (Jackie Chan), Master Mantis (Seth Rogen) and Master Crane (David Cross) — to stop his adversary.
Another point of praise is the film’s moving yet clever script, which was written by screenwriting duo Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger. The film is replete with exciting fight sequences. Just like Po’s intense yet comical battle with Tai Lung in the original “Kung Fu Panda,” the Dragon Warrior’s battle with Kai is as amusing and energetic as it could be. From witty dialogue to entertaining battles, “Kung Fu Panda 3” is a solid action comedy.
There are also some elements in “Kung Fu Panda 3” that improve upon the prequels. For instance, the presence of both Po’s adopted and biological fathers makes for interesting character dynamics. In the previous two films, Mr. Ping (James Hong), the goose who adopted Po as his son, made only brief appearances. In “Kung Fu Panda 3,” Mr. Ping and Li Shan, Po’s biological father, play much more significant roles. Whereas the two prequels focused more on Po’s naive outlook on life, “Kung Fu Panda 3” places greater emphasis on his fathers’ perspectives and their dual father-son relationships. Because of this slight shift in perspective, “Kung Fu Panda 3” evolves the franchise from a simple action show for younger audiences to a touching film fit for the entire family.
Furthermore, the animation definitely adds significantly to the film, especially when viewed in 3-D. The detailed animation plays a crucial role throughout the film, particularly in its battle scenes. The animation techniques used in “Kung Fu Panda 3” provide a much more enriching and enchanting film experience compared to its prequels.
Although the film succeeds on many levels, it falls short on others. As a result of its focus on Po, his fathers and the panda village, the presence of Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and the Furious Five seems unwarranted, and it feels as if they were only included to appeal to fans of the prequels. Master Tigress (Angelina Jolie) does appear mid-way to help Po, but the relative importance of this scene is minimal. Additionally, although “Kung Fu Panda 3” excited many fans with the hope that Po would meet his father and return home, it is disappointing that this reunification comes at the cost of Master Shifu and the Furious Five’s screen time.
Nevertheless, “Kung Fu Panda 3” will keep its audiences entertained and moved throughout its entirety. As a kids’ film, it will keep the children perched on the edge of their seats, and as a family movie, it might even leave parents deeply touched. Nelson and Carloni have once again produced a rare example of a children’s movie that also appeals to adults.