The Boy and The Flower were both lukewarm on Kung Fu Panda 2, and completely uninterested in the third entry in the series, but The Barbarienne naturally just HAD to see it, so off we went. Interestingly, if you check out that old review of KFP2, you’ll see that the kids liked it without being terribly impressed, but over time—and I can barely believe it’s been five years; you’ll see I predicted a quick follow-up—they’ve both downgraded it in their memories. The Boy in particular refers to it as “porridge”, which is not entirely unfair, though it’s very beautiful porridge indeed.
Another thing I predicted is that KFP3 would be exactly the same as KFP2. I’m happy to say that that’s not quite the case. Although it follows much of the same pattern, in the sense that Po starts out as a failure and finds success at the end, they didn’t quite put him at Square One, like they did with KFP2.
The premise is that Master Shi Fu (Dustin Hoffman again) needs to go off into a cave for 30 years to discover his self, which in turn will give him mastery over his qi. (OK, whatever.) Which means it’s up to the Dragon Warrior (Jack Black, of course) to teach at the kung fu school while Shi Fu is contemplating his navel or whatever. And, of course, Po isn’t up to the task of teaching.
This part is a bit of a stretch. The one disastrous attempt they show at him teaching the Five (Seth Rogen, David Cross, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan) doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. In order to underscore his failure, the Five have to be reduced to incompetence as well, while training, like they’re robots doing exactly what he tells them (which is sort of ironic given the turn of the plot).
But, hey, we aren’t here to learn Kung Fu. We’re here for the fat jokes, and we get fat jokes aplenty.
This tenuous failure is okay because it’s all over pretty fast when two things happen at once: First, in the spirit world, Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) is defeated by his best frenemy Kai. Kai, a yak or water-buffalo or whatever, is a new character in the franchise (and, in a brilliant stroke, is voiced by J.K. Simmons). Kai likes to turn creatures into jade medallions that he can use to summon “jombies”, jade versions of the original kung fu masters whose chi he stole.
Second, Po’s dad (in another great voice choice, Bryan Cranston) shows up in Po’s village calling him “Lotus” and telling him about the secret village of pandas where all his people live. Selfsame village which taught a younger Oogway the ways of chi.
Soon, Po is lounging around his home town, learning the ways of the Panda: Mostly loafing, napping, eating, and rolling. One knows already how this must play out and it does play out in exactly that way, but if it lacks originality, it has a sincerity of presentation which is enjoyable enough. This does not, unlike the last one, feel like a complete retread.
It also doesn’t really have any of the darkness of the last one, which is good. The Barbarienne was never once scared, and she’s a little ‘fraidy cat. More importantly, for the general viewer, that “darkness” or “edginess” didn’t really add anything to the experience. That said, it made even less money than #2, which itself wasn’t a big hit, so we may be looking at the end of the franchise.
Which is fine.
The incredible number of celebrity voices get very little time, due both to their number and the fact that this isn’t a big dialogue movie, except when Po is rambling along in his Jack Blackish fashion. And they seem to have all come back for one or two lines, including Jean Claude van Damme, and the series further extends this by adding Al Roker and Willie Geist (of the “Today” show) for a line or two, and Kate Hudson, who does a good job as a “panda femme fatale”.
But, I want to call out James Hong, here, as Po’s adoptive father. In this movie he has to wrestle with his feelings about Po being reunited with his Panda father, and he does a wonderful job here. After over 60 years in the business, the guy could put another Annie under his belt for this one.
Anyway, don’t expect any great shocks, but it’s a good enough time for the whole family.