DIR: Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Alessandro Carloni • WRI: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, Veronika Franz • PRO: Melissa Cobb • DOP: Martin Gschlacht • ED: Clare De Chenu • MUS: Olga Neuwirth • DES: Raymond Zibach • MUS: Hans Zimmer • CAST: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, J.K. Simmons, Bryan Cranston, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Randall Duk Kim
Five years after Kung Fu Panda 2 showed the world that a peacock could be intimidating if it was voiced by Gary Oldman, the loveable kung fu fanatic, Po (voiced by Jack Black) is back for the third instalment.
The film begins with Master Oogway (Duk Kim), who floated off this plane of existence in the first film, enjoying the tranquillity of the afterlife until he’s confronted by a foe from 500 years in his past. This warrior, Kai (Simmons) has been working his way around the spirit world, draining kung-fu masters of their spiritual energy and, upon doing the same to Oogway, has enough power to make his way to the world of the living to destroy everything that Oogway believed in.
Meanwhile, Po has a pretty eventful day, in the morning his master, Shifu, appoints him as the new master and teacher of his friends and idols, the Furious Five and in the afternoon he happens to run into his birth-father (Cranston), long thought to be dead. More surprising still, Po’s father comes from a hidden village of pandas which survived the campaign to exterminate them revealed in the second film. While Kai begins carving his way through all of the kung fu masters in China, Po finds that the key to defeating him may well lie in reconciling his new role of teacher and the new community that he finds himself a part of.
It pretty much goes without saying that a good children’s film these days will be able to appeal as much to adults as to kids. This is definitely the case here. While there’s still the strong physical humour and a busload of silly new characters, there’s a depth to plot that adults should be able to appreciate. The film carries on with some of the darker plot elements from the second film and, while it does employ the “adopted parent is jealous of the birth parent” trope that’s been seen in virtually any medium where someone finds out they’re adopted and there are certainly an abundance of the tiny cute panda babies that are on all the promotional posters, it refuses to get complacent. Yes there are cute little kids running around, but when the time comes for the big climactic fight, you won’t see them playing peek-a-boo or biting a bad guy’s tail or any other such clichés and any turbulence between Po’s two fathers is resolved in a pretty sensible manner, free from any misunderstandings of overheard conversation or manipulative undermining of each other.
If there’s one fault with the film which really stands outs, it’s that it could probably stand to be longer. The film takes its time nicely in establishing the conflict and Po’s heritage, but the result is that the second act spent in the panda village is pretty rushed. This means that some running gags run through their entire lifespan in twenty five minutes or so, making it seem more like someone forgot they did the same joke three times than a well laid out pattern.
As with the other films, this one carries its fair share of heart and emotional revelations, which again manage to avoid seeming contrived, even when you know they’re coming. The animation is sterling, as always, and it’s lost its predecessors unfortunate habit of overusing slow-motion, letting the kung fu action be impressive without feeling the need to beat audiences over the head with it.
It’s easy for the third instalment in a series to try to coast on the success and reputation of its prequels, but Kung Fu Panda 3 doesn’t even attempt this. Building on character development and plot points from the first two films, this story manages to feel both like a complete tale in and of itself and like the successful continuation of one story. While it would be a much better idea to go into this film having seen the first two, there’s just enough light exposition to let viewers guess more or less what they need to know. Word has it that Dreamworks is planning to make Kung Fu Panda a six-part series, but if it was to finish as a trilogy, this film is about a strong an ending as we could hope for.
PG (See IFCO for details)
Kung Fu Panda 3 is released 11th March 2016