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New Release Review - KUNG FU PANDA 3

Our endangered hero returns for a third adventure.



Review by Joshua Mitchell (@jlfm97)

Directed by: Alessandro Carloni, Jennifer Yuh

Starring: Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, JK Simmons, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Kate Hudson



While the five year break between sequels appears to have rejuvenated the franchise slightly, Kung Fu Panda 3 is still just a needless sequel to a needless sequel.


While animated films starring animals are not uncommon, 2016 seems to contain an unusually large supply of them - Disney's Zootopia, Pixar's Finding Dory, as well as Storks, The Secret Life of Pets, The Angry Birds Movie, and Sing. And with only a month into the new year, audiences have gotten a taste of two such features; the critically reviled Norm of the North and Dreamworks' Kung Fu Panda 3. The popular CGI film series has carried forth the typical Dreamworks franchise plan, spawning multiple sequels and a TV series, as well as direct-to-DVD specials for its hungry audience. And though portions of Kung Fu Panda 3 suggest that this may be the final chapter, it would be surprising if Dreamworks didn't try to squeeze at least one more sequel and a spin-off out of their chubby panda (Jeffrey Katzenberg had even previously stated that audiences may get as many as three more sequels after the third chapter). The financial allure will likely prove too much for the studio, though frankly, the fat jokes have worn pretty thin at this point. And while the five year break between sequels appears to have rejuvenated the franchise slightly, Kung Fu Panda 3 is still just a needless sequel to a needless sequel.
Keeping with Kung Fu Panda 2's baffling story decision to turn one of the first film's running gags into the storyline, Kung Fu Panda 3 ushers Po's long-lost father, Li, into the story. In order to teach Po an ancient ritual, Po and Li journey to a secret panda village, where Po is reunited with his own kind. Meanwhile, the villainous Kai has emerged from the spirit world in order to capture the Furious 5 and take over China.
Historically, threequels (or even sequels for that matter) have not been a strong point of Dreamworks. The tedious Madagascar 3 and the disastrous Shrek the Third have set a low bar for Kung Fu Panda 3 to hurdle. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kung Fu Panda 3 clears it. The humour isn't overly obnoxious, and it gets a chuckle now and then. The story, while derivative and lightweight, goes down easy enough. And the impressive animation picks up a lot of the slack as well. The affair is completely harmless, which is a step in the right direction after the completely pointless Kung Fu Panda 2.
The Kung Fu Panda franchise has always managed to stand out a little from most of the other Dreamworks films for the same reason How to Train Your Dragon has become so popular: it finds time to take itself seriously. Not too seriously mind you, with every moment of attempted poignancy often rudely interrupted by a poorly-timed gag, but the film does find time to take a breather and focus on the characters. Regrettably, the characters aren't especially interesting, and the script is a little clumsy, but it's really the thought that counts. The evidence that director Jennifer Yuh Nelson is trying is encouraging, and a refreshing change of pace from Dreamworks other sequels/rehashes.
Kung Fu Panda 3 will work for the kids, and therefore, meets its minimum requirements. But the point cannot be stressed enough that with so many animated films working to appeal to those of all ages (i.e. not just your eight year old), Kung Fu Panda 3 feels somewhat inadequate, especially when compared to last year's transcendent Inside Out. And yet, any Dreamworks film that avoids excessive pop culture references, fart/poop jokes (with one exception), and places at least some emphasis on its characters deserves a pat on the back before condemning it to the depths of mediocrity.
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