With a third iteration of an animated series of films, it’s hard to keep up a genuine sense of surprise. For Kung Fu Panda 3, that pressure is even more of an issue given that the first film was a massive surprise and the second film only managed to top the action, comedy and emotional strength of the characters. With this third entry, there’s a bit more regression for the sake of its story. The lessons of self actualization in particular feels like a retread of earlier material, meant to give Po a new reason to look back on his past that seems awfully familiar. Sure, it’s nice to see him connect with his birth father (voiced with energetic fun by Bryan Cranston) and have some conflict with the goose who raised him (still immaculately voiced by James Hong), but it’s at the price of the development of the Po character from the last entry. Nearly a decade ago, this would seem more commonplace for Dreamworks’ third entries, given corporately bland franchise credibility killing something likeShrek The Third.
Now, Dreamworks has proven itself to be more capable of development with it sequels, particularly with the world expansing How to Train Your Dragon 2 or the franchise redeeming Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. As previously mentioned, even Kung Fu Panda 2 upped the ante on pretty much every aspect to top what came before. Meanwhile, this follow up sets up intriguing ideas about Po becoming a teacher or find inner peace only to go back to the well with the lesson he came to know ages ago. This isn’t helped by reducing the already underutilized members of the Furious Five to very underwhelmingly unfunny comedic parts and giving JK Simmons a rather uninteresting villain role, especially compared to Gary Oldman or Ian McShane in the previous two. Then again, there are a few moments that speak to the subversion of the earlier films, particularly the climactic battle sequence. Speaking of which, the fight sequences and montages showcase the biggest step up for this third entry: the animation. Every deliberate detail and lighting effect is damned gorgeous to look at, giving an extra sheen to every scene that sells the true awe inspiring nature of the kung fu techniques more so than the story does. Even something as small as the stop motion style way the frozen jade warriors walk is something to marvel at. So, while the lesser of these three, Kung Fu Panda 3 is a worthy example of martial arts love to behold and could easily serve as a solid end to the franchise… hopefully.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Panda Rolls