Has it really been eight years since the first saw Kung Fu Panda and Po kicked his way to $631 million worldwide? After a sequel, tons of merchandise, video games, and holiday specials, we’ve arrived at Kung Fu Panda 3.
This time we find Po (voiced by Jack Black) and his friends protecting the Valley of Peace. Po, believing he was the last of his kind, finds his father Li (voiced by Bryan Cranston) who wants to take him home to the hidden panda village where he’s from. While Po is away, the valley is attacked by Master Oogway’s old nemesis Kai (voiced by J.K. Simmons). The surviving warriors make their way to the panda village to warn Po and find the secret to beating Kai.
As simple as the plot is, there is something about the Kung Fu Panda films that resonates with audiences young and old.
It helps that the animation from DreamWorks is wonderfully used. From the details in a cherry blossom tree to a panda slurping a noodle, the animation is very detailed and deliberate. It’s not as unbelievable as some of the animation we’ve seen in years, but the animation is perfect for an action story with fighting animals. The animation makes the Kung Fu Panda world feel real enough to make the story believable.
Every Kung Fu Panda movie has plenty of action and the third installment is no different. It has everything a live action kung fu movie would have – a big bad villain, a likable hero, multiple fight scenes, a training montage, and a final showdown.
The biggest thing that makes these films so enjoyable is their constant themes of family, identity, purpose, and friendship. These are serious themes wrapped in a story about a goofy panda that bounces his belly, tells bad jokes, and is more of a clumsy goofball than a charismatic hero. Underneath all the slapstick is Po constantly struggling with who he is. Once he finds his father, it’s the first time Po has someone like he him can be ridiculous with. The panda village is the first time Po is able to identify with who he is. Po is loyal to his friends despite how out of place he is, and he finally walks in the purpose Oogway laid out for him in the first film.
All those themes are blended within the humor and action so they don’t beat you over the head. It’s the reason, even after three films, Po’s journey is still as exciting and delightful as the first time.
Kung Fu Panda 3 may be as predictable as any film this year, yet it remains the most constituent animated franchise there is. It doesn’t deliver anything new, but it will deliver is a fun time at the movies.