When the original Kung Fu Panda hit theaters in 2008 it delivered one of the best animated films of its kind and still manages to hold up today. With its success it was no surprise when they unleashed the follow up in 2011. With the second entry it not only continued the story of the Dragon Warrior, but also set up a new story at the end. Now that cliffhanger is about to pay off with the latest chapter of Po with Kung Fu Panda 3, but can it capture the same magic as the previous entries or will this be the end of his journey?
In Kung Fu Panda 3 Po’s long-lost panda father suddenly reappears and the reunited duo travel to a secret panda paradise to meet scores of hilarious new panda characters. But when the supernatural villain Kai begins to sweep across China defeating all the kung fu masters, Po must do the impossible—learn to train a village full of his fun-loving, clumsy brethren to become the ultimate band of Kung Fu Pandas! This series has continued to get better and better with this latest chapter not only keeping that streak alive, but it is probably the best in the series so far. They have taken the elements that have made this series so fun intact while constantly bringing new elements to them to keep it feeling fresh each time. All the original cast return including Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, and James Hong as well as new comers Bryan Cranston, Kate Hudson, and J.K. Simmons. Black is better than ever as Po and clearly loves playing this character. Despite him being the dragon warrior they have kept the simple minded mentality of the character in place as he continues to grow into something more in each film. The rest of the Furious Five team are fine, but with the exception of Jolie are all somewhat sidelined for most of the film. While they are missed, it makes the story work so much better and feel like they are taking it to a new place. The new cast all do a great job bringing their characters to life further expanding this fun world even further. There are a couple of familiar returning characters as well, but they are there for just some action sequences and have no dialogue.
The story itself is excellent as it brings all the same fun you have come to love in the series, but also brings a lot of heart to these characters. The ending of the second film set this direction of perfectly and with the story picking right up here makes it feel like one long story which is rare in these animated films. Sure there is a new threat for the Dragon Warrior to take on, but this story brings the focus on learning more about Po’s past with his panda family. This aspect could have taken the generic approach with his adoptive father Mr. Ping voiced by James Hong, but instead they let him show concern and support ending with a great direction for all of the characters. On the threat side they briefly returned to what Po thought would be a simple way to defeat his new enemy Kai, only to find that it would not immediately showing they were not going to just rehash the same story.
As always the animation is brilliantly vibrant bringing this world to life. The character designs are as great as ever with the coolness of all the returning characters, but some great looking new ones to add to the fun. The addition of the spiritual world adds a new dimension to this universe allowing an all-new platform for action and over the top direction while keeping with the ongoing theme of the franchise. These are some of the most beautifully animated sequences in the series and give fans not only a awesome visual treat, but opens up a direction of keeping varying characters in play once thought not possible. Whether you’re a fan of the series or not this is the perfect animated film and one that stands above the ones above it and should be seen by everyone.