Having proved himself against Lord Shen and Tai Lung, Po (Jack Black) is elevated to the role of teacher by retiring Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and put in charge of the Furious Five (Jackie Chan, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, David Cross and Lucy Liu). All of his focus is required, so it’s a bad time for Po’s real father (Bryan Cranston) to turn up. And then the evil Kai escapes from the spirit realm with designs on capturing the qi of every warrior in the world.
We’re told that this final entry into the Kung Fu Panda trilogy will be the last big screen appearance of Po, the fat Chinese bear who could. We’ll see. Such is the popularity and virtually guaranteed box office gold of this franchise that it seems a presumptious and downright fiscally irresponsible decision. Adopting the creative choice of ‘If it ‘ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, detailing the plot here seems almost superfluous; protagonist is set a challenge, encounters obstacles, faces the seemingly impossible, almost gives in, rises to the challenge and then succeeds, learning about himself and growing in the process. It would be all too easy to dismiss this as light, trite and utterly derivative were it not for the fact that it’s perfectly designed for it’s core audience demographic who will lap it up and send it to the top of the charts. But that’s not to say Kung Fu Panda 3 is not without it’s charms.
Shot through with beautiful visuals and superb production design, the real strength of this and the two previous KFP films lies in the voice work. Dustin Hoffman again provides maturity and grounding as old timer Shifu, the Furious Five all do their thing as expected (including the no-doubt contractually obliged Angelina Jolie) and Shane Black once more triumphs as Po. It’s testament to his popularity and energy that he has always done publicity worldwide for the Kung Fu Panda films, meaning that in those none English-speaking regions where another actor has dubbed the Panda, Jack is promoting a movie he’s had precisely nothing to do with.
Where Pixar scores and others are yet to truly follow is in the multi-layered approach and sheer emotional wallop their output pack, appealing across age, sex and genre. It’s telling that their last effort, The Good Dinosaur, was considered pretty much a failure despite being a movie that, had it originated from Dreamworks SKG – like Kung Fu Panda – would have been reviewed and received well.
Kung Fu Panda 3 will do the business and dominate family viewing this Easter, just as planned. And hey, if you find yourself checking your watch and counting down the minutes in your local multiplex, console yourself with the thought that you could, instead, be sat in front of Alvin and the Chipmunks for ninety minutes. That you’re not speaks very highly of your qi levels, master viewer.
Kung Fu Panda 3 is on nationwide release from Friday 11th March.