I can’t think of another franchise that has delivered with such consistency as the Kung Fu Panda movies, which frankly seem to be raising expectations with each new installment. It’s a particularly commendable achievement at a time when it’s hard to approach any sequel without some degree of cynicism or fatigue.
In Kung Fu Panda 3, our roly-poly dumpling-loving protagonist Po (Jack Black) finds himself united with his biological father (Bryan Cranston), who persuades him to return home to their panda village in the mountains. But his lazy time with other pandas is interrupted by news that the villainous Kai (JK Simmons) has escaped the spirit realm to steal the ‘chi’ of every kung fu master in the land.
Although the film once again requires Po to dig deep within himself to realize his true potential in order to overcome the latest hurdle, that trusted blueprint allows the filmmakers to combine humor, genuine heartfelt emotion, and action in equal measure. I particularly enjoyed the good-humored and surprisingly touching subplot about Po torn between his love for his adoptive father-goose and the papa panda he never knew he had.
Jack Black continues to own his role as the bumbling but eternally optimistic Po, and the animation is gorgeous, blending influences from traditional Chinese art with a stunning palette of colors that make the images pop in nicely rendered 3D. The story may be slight – it’s never as inventive as some of Pixar’s best work – but this is a charming film with plenty laughs for both the young and the young at heart. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five.