It’s hard to believe, but it’s been almost five years since Po and the Furious Five (Tigress, Viper, Crane, Monkey and Mantis) last karate chopped their way onto the big screen. Their latest theatrical adventure, simply titled “Kung Fu Panda 3,” finds the animated heroes facing off against arguably their most dangerous opponent yet: a supernatural yak named Kai (voiced by J.K. Simmons) who won’t rest until he’s taken the chi of every kung fu master.
After overthrowing his one-time friend Master Oogway (voiced by Randall Duk Kim) in the spiritual world, Kai finally has enough power to return to the mortal world to find the one who Oogway said would defeat him once and for all: the Dragon Warrior, Po (voiced by Jack Black). Everyone’s favorite panda is currently busy taking the next step in his training, learning how to teach others—namely, the Furious Five—how to fight, when his biological father Li (voiced by Bryan Cranston) suddenly reappears, having received a message from the universe about his long-lost son. When Master Shifu (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) discovers that the only way for Po to defeat Kai is for him to master the art of chi—something pandas were apparently well-known for back in Oogway’s day—Po sets off with his birth father to a secret panda village to learn how to be, well, a proper panda.
While Po is away, Kai strikes the Jade Palace and successfully takes the chis of Master Shifu, Monkey (voiced by Jackie Chan), Viper (voiced by Lucy Liu), Mantis (voiced by Seth Rogen) and Crane (voiced by David Cross). Tigress (voiced by Angelina Jolie Pitt) manages to escape Kai’s attack to warn Po of the danger he’s facing, though how both she and Kai know the location of the secret panda village is never really explained. Po, who has come along in his panda training by sleeping past noon and eating to his “full potential,” begs his father to teach him how to master his chi before it’s too late, but discovers that neither Li nor any other living panda knows how to master their chi anymore. With no other hope, Po must teach his new panda family how to fight to protect their village from Kai and save their species from yet another genocide.
Although many sequels tend to suffer from bad storytelling, fans of Po and the Furious Five will be delighted to know that “Kung Fu Panda 3” is just as awesome as its predecessors. Though the movie has a few faults, the pacing moves quick enough to keep both younger viewers and adult fans of the franchise entertained throughout its 95-minute run time. The animation is beautiful, the 3-D effects (for those who opt to see it in 3-D) are impressive without being gimmicky and the script has just the right balance of humor, heart and action.
Black is as lovable as ever as Po, though his star-studded sidekicks are criminally underused. While that’s nothing new for the series, franchise screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger once again seem to drop the ball on Tigress after teasing that audiences would get more of her backstory during a scene in “Kung Fu Panda 2” and never delivering. Fans hoping to learn some new information on the fearless tiger in “Kung Fu Panda 3” will be disappointed.
While Cranston and Simmons’ new characters get adequate screen time, Po’s one-time rumored love interest Mei Mei (voiced by Kate Hudson) never becomes more than just another comic-relief character. In fact, the baby panda that takes to Tigress in the secret panda village leaves a bigger impression on audiences than poor ribbon-dancing Mei Mei.
Of course, the “Kung Fu Panda” franchise has always been all about Po living up to expectations as the chosen one, and the portly panda successfully continues his quest to be the best warrior he can be in this latest fun-filled installment. While the end of the film almost seems like the end of the franchise, here’s to hoping that audiences haven’t seen the last of Po and the Furious Five on the big screen.
“Kung Fu Panda 3” is now playing in theaters everywhere.
For more information, visit the film’s official web site.