Review: Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)

My Plot review: Recommended
Star rating: Star rating of 3

Po in the Bath

Kung Fu Panda 3 reunites the fans of the Dreamworks series with Po, who having defeated the evil Lord Shen must face two hugely epic, but different threats: one supernatural and the other a little closer to home.

There is a great deal of unfair apathy from the older members of audiences towards the trials and adventures of Po and understandably so. DreamWorks has consistently marketed the film to the lowest common denominator, a fatty-fall-down adventure that kids will lap up but adults will loathe. Yet, those that have taken the plunge have found a series rich in mythology, humour and some of the most beautiful animation to ever hit the screen. These are the people that have been anticipating the third instalment.
I am one of these people.

"This is a series of films that skews closer to the 70’s work of the Shaw Brothers studio than it does to the likes of Shrek and Despicable Me."

Kung Fu Panda 3 is a worthy but also sadly, the weakest entry to the martial arts series but when it gets it right, it’s magnificent. The animation is as beautiful as ever utilising comic book framing, stunning water colours and a score from Hans Zimmer that builds on the work of Interstellar which leads me to believe he is coming out of his self-plagiarism funk. The work that directors Alessandro Carloni, Jennifer Yuh and their team have created is unlike anything else in western animation at present and whilst the story isn't as strong as the last installment, the energy and soul that permeates through the 95 minute run time is undeniable.

Yet, herein lays the problem with Kung Fu Panda 3.

The film is riddled with soulful moments, embedded in eastern philosophy and culture which lends the film a layer of depth you wouldn’t come to expect outside of Pixar. But DreamWorks and writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger simply do not have the courage of their convictions, nor the belief in their audience that the team at Pixar seem to. Every genuinely soulful and touching moment is broken up by the quest for easy laughs or a slapstick moment that sticks a pin in the emotional balloon created by the scene. Stable mate How to Train Your Dragon has this conviction and it resulted in the two finest films of the last twenty years, yet for a film that is on its third entry with a built in fan base, Kung Fu Panda 3 plays it safe more than ever.

The latest casting suffers also, with neither Bryan Cranston as Po’s father or J.K. Simmons as the big bad warlord Kai bringing much to the table. You’re discussing two of the potently angriest men on the planet, fresh off of Breaking Bad and Whiplash respectively, and yet both performances land just shy of flat.

That said; it is impossible not to get caught up in the infectious vocal work of Jack Black. Just like School of Rock before it, Po was a character Black was born to play and once again he brings a nice mix of humour and genuine heart to our big hero.

Kung Fu Panda 3 is a solid entry to a brilliant series of films, despite the lows being serious enough to warrant criticism; its highs guarantee that it’s still a far better proposition than the lazy, idiot fuel of Despicable Me.

Skidoosh indeed.