a still from the film
I'm stating it clearly at the beginning: this third chapter is not completely on the same level as its predecessors.
But it's still a vividly entertaining adventure story with beautiful animation. And it's still charming and funny with the same soft brand of humour we've come to adore.
What Kung Fu Panda 3 does do is take a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach to the franchise formula - we still see Po stumble into doing the right things, eat too much, not understand any kind of philosophy thrown at him and all of his usual oafish behaviour that we've gotten so accustomed to over the years. He's still going to defeat the bad guy and give us a whole bunch of laughs while he goes about it.
Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni, who both helmed the second film, this chapter begins in the Spirit Realm where we get to see the wise old tortoise Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) - who disappeared in a swirl of petals in the first film - get attacked by his ancient enemy Kai.
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Voiced by JK Simmons, Kai is a blade-wielding yak who has challenged thousands of kung fu masters and stolen their chi, which he stores in jade amulets and uses to raise a powerful supernatural army of jade zombies (or "jombies").
Once he defeats Oogway, Kai harnesses enough power to escape back into the mortal world, where he becomes determined to hunt down the one fated to overthrow him: Po (Jack Black), the Dragon Warrior.
Back at the Jade Palace, master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) has decided to hand over his classes to Po, a move that dumbfounds Po and his pals in the Furious Five: Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Viper (Lucy Liu), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen) and Crane (David Cross).
Right on the heels of that, the Dragon Warrior reunites with his biological father, Li Shan (Bryan Cranston), who asks Po to leave and come back with him to a secret panda village in the mountains with a promise that he'll help him master chi.
There are very few surprises along the way after that. It's a super familiar storyline by now and in this film it's almost as if they decided to skip over major chunks of the screenplay. Things just suddenly click into place and, well, you're just supposed to go along with it.
This isn't to say that Kung Fu Panda 3 is a bad movie, it contains plenty of fun moments and visuals, along with a charming continuation of the franchise's overarching message: 'Be Yourself'.
In fact, one of the biggest strengths of the Kung Fu Panda series has been the refusal to take itself to seriously. And that applies to its internal contradictions as well. The path to enlightenment, according to Master Oogway is paved with wit, failure and whimsy.
That's exactly what allows Po to be the Chosen One/Dragon Warrior but also be an utter goofball.
Visually, chi allowed the directors to play around with a lot more. For example, the spirit realm has a dreamy feel, while a backstory sequence springs out of a calligraphy scroll to create some beautiful imagery.
Kung Fu Panda 3 is the weakest feature installment of the series overall, but it's still full of all that Kung Fu goodness that we first fell in love with.
And the kids will go gaga for it. That goes without saying.
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