Kung Fu Panda 3 is set to kick the box office in the face this weekend, and rightfully so. The series has been extremely well-crafted thus far, with great love for its numerous colorful characters and for martial arts itself. Normally the third film in a franchise is where the wheels fall off the noodle cart, but Kung Fu Panda 3 not only keeps the franchise on sure footing, it elevates it to new heights.
Jack Black and the entire main cast return as the Dragon Warrior Po finds himself reunited with his biological Panda father Li Shan (Bryan Cranston). Unbeknownst to Po and his friends, their deceased master Oogway’s nemesis Kai (J.K. Simmons) has returned from the spirit world after harnessing the chi of all masters that have passed on to that dimension. Could Li Shan somehow have the key to stopping the unstoppable Kai?
Kung Fu Panda 3 really excels with its additions to the core cast, as well as adding to the mythology of the overall Panda franchise. Kung Fu Panda 2 was still a sweet, fun ride but also carbon-copied a lot of the original to recapture its magic. This film brings wonderful new characters such as Li Shan who is endearingly brought to life by the great Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad). Not to be outdone, J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) is the perfect family film villain as Kai with his intimidating voice yet great comedic timing.
The unsung hero of the franchise for me though, is still Po’s adopted father, the adorable Mr. Ping, played brilliantly by James Hong. His love of Po has brought about some of the most loving, tear-jerking moments of the franchise and Ping’s sweet, but overbearing reaction to Po’s biological dad showing up is the heart of this film.
Gushy stuff aside, there are plenty of things for both young and old to keep everyone entertained. The introduction to the Panda village with all their hilarious personalities and quirks was a great way to shake things up while adding new layers to the character of Po himself.
It sort of goes without saying at this point, but the fight choreography is once again stunningly executed and gorgeous on the eyes. The added element of the spirit world also gave the animators a completely new way to showcase not only fight scenes, but everything magical about the franchise.
The biggest nitpick I can pin on Kung Fu Panda 3 aside from an opening that’s a tad slow, would be the miniscule use of its diverse, talented supporting cast. Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross and Jackie chan are back in their respective roles as Master Shifu and The Furious 5, but have very few lines and little screen time. Even new cast member Kate Hudson, as female Panda Mei Mei, is little more than a cameo. To the film’s credit, there was an awful lot of story to get through with Po’s family, so the limited screen time isn’t unexpected, just disappointing.
Not content on staying too close to the franchise mold, Kung Fu Panda 3 exceeds at keeping the series fun, interesting and always going new places. Audience members young and old should laugh, be entertained and moved by the craftsmanship and heart of this excellent family film.