Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)
Directed by Jennifer Yuh and Alessandro Carloni
Po (perfectly voiced by Jack Black), the clumsy Panda adopted by a goose (James Hong) and unexpectedly chosen by Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) as the Dragon Warrior, has always had a sort of identity crisis. But when his real father, Li (Bryan Cranston), finally finds him and brings him back to the panda village in which he was born, Po begins an internal battle between duty and self. His struggle reaches a new level. He needs to be too many things to too many people, he thinks. Po’s existential crisis, which makes up the first half of the movie, is slow and unoriginal. It shows a tired franchise on its last leg. But when the baddie, a vicious bull named Kai (J.K. Simmons), threatens to steal the chi (and the mortal lives) of the Five (Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, David Cross, Seth Rogen, and Lucy Lui), Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), and the entire panda population. Po finds something to fight for. And “Kung Fu Panda 3” finds its rhythm, and its heart. But by that point, it’s too late.
Compared to its Oscar-nominated predecessors, “Kung Fu Panda 3” lacks a certain staying power. It’s more boring and more childish than the others—fine for the kids, maybe, but less so for the parents. Then again, maybe I’m just older than I was five and eight years ago. The plot is paper-thin, and what’s there seems super familiar—in a sense, we’ve seen it twice before. What good can you take from it? The beautiful animation style blends Dreamworks’ typically childish animal characters with a culturally appropriate oriental style. You won’t want to look away. Plus, an already-stacked cast adds Oscar winner J.K. Simmons and nominee Bryan Cranston. In terms of voice acting, this franchise has never had trouble finding and utilizing talent. Animators-turned-directors Jennifer Yuh and Alessandro Carloni pull out the best in these fine voice actors. But despite that (and despite a script written by the guys responsible for the two before it), “Kung Fu Panda 3” never finds solid ground to stand on.