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Kung Fu Panda 3 – Movie Review

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Kung Fu Panda 3 – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy 20th Century Fox

It’s been impressive seeing the artists at DreamWorks Animation take what could be a silly concept like Kung Fu Panda and transform it into a beautiful and culturally aware series of films. With the third and possibly final film in the franchise, directors Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni continue to evolve Po’s journey into the Dragon Warrior and crafted something mesmerizing, heartwarming and genuinely funny. From an animation standpoint, it’s a wonder of artistry and shows the Kung Fu Panda movies deserve to be ranked among the finest martial arts epics. Seeing the growth of the movies over the past couple of years is also representative of DreamWorks shifting from its mid-2000s “hip” formula to animated films that strive more than to simply tell jokes.

Like the best trilogies, Kung Fu Panda shows a real growth for Po in maturing and becoming a kung fu master. He evolves, with the filmmakers also never losing sight of why audiences endeared to him in the first place. He is an energetic and lovable character and yet there’s a continuing maturity and he learns things, even as he still displays a massive appetite for dumplings. All three films also pair him with a strong villain to play off against. Kai is an intimidating force, but he fits within the world the artists have created. He’s both a threat and legitimately humourous with J.K. Simmons being a fitting voice for this antagonist. The addition of a family dynamic with other pandas is also a nice idea and connects with the overall theme of the series. Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, who wrote all three films, do a strong job of tying them nicely together and making it seem like a lot of plot details were planned from the very beginning. It creates a nice unity between the movies.

Kung Fu Panda is also significant for how it portrays the Chinese culture. It’s a respectful take on the ancient past of the country with the proper animals being utilised. The use of colours have always been spectacular and with Kung Fu Panda 3, the animators take them to the next level. They play around with shading at certain points and the cinematography strikes the perfect atmosphere for the scenes. Hans Zimmer’s score appropriately transitions between epic and thrilling and emotional. The choreography in the action sequences is tremendous with each animal being distinctive. The character animation for Po has always been a high mark of the series with him being graceful at some points and effectively using his weight to defeat his opponents. These scenes are stunning to watch and capture the right spirit and balance between cartoony and intense. Most importantly, the fight scenes in Kung Fu Panda have also managed to show that violence is not the be-all and end-all for solving a confrontation.

With the exception of Po, Master Shifu and the central villain, the Kung Fu Panda series has always fallen into the stunt casting trap for the supporting players. The Furious Five always seem to be second bananas and not quite fully developed and one wonders the point behind hiring the likes of Angelina Jolie, David Cross, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan and Seth Rogen to provide the vocals. Besides marquee value, which means little in animated features, it’s really not necessary. This is especially a case in Kung Fu Panda 3, where the Furious Five are given the least screen time out of any of the films. Kate Hudson sounds especially out of place as the ribbon-twirling Mei Mei, especially when the dialogue and animation is clearly written and modeled after the character’s original voice actress Rebel Wilson. On the positive side, Po’s foster father Mr. Ping (as voiced by the delightful James Hong) is given more screen time and a humourous character arc of his own and Bryan Cranston is very welcome as his biological panda father.

If Kung Fu Panda 3 does indeed end up as the capper to a trilogy, it’s a very satisfying finale and this will be a fine place to end Po’s story. There’s a great arc established ever since we first saw him playing with his action figures and fanboying over the Furious Five. With this very basic concept, the talented artists at DreamWorks Animation were allowed to take it to a very inspired level and create three very beautiful, funny and touching films. Kung Fu Panda 2 remains the peak of the series as it has the best villain and the most emotionally stirring story. However, Kung Fu Panda 3 definitely deserves to sit right alongside its predecessors.

Stefan Ellison

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