They did it. They actually managed to make a Kung Fu Panda movie that’s better than the last one! Kung Fu Panda surprised everyone with how funny, action-packed, and clever it was despite a silly premise (Jack Black as a panda who learns kung fu? Really?) and some unflattering commercials. Kung Fu Panda 2 is one of the best film sequels of all time! Essentially, it is the ideal sequel (or how a sequel should be done). It had more action, improved animation, a much better villain, it fleshed out and developed the characters, the stakes were higher, and it even has a M.M.M (the scene where Po recalls what happened to him as a child). After that success, I didn’t think they could possibly one-up themselves again. I love being proven wrong, as they improved upon everything that the second film did and even more.
Kung Fu Panda 3 is directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni and written by Johnathan Aibel and Glenn Berger. Stars-Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, Angelina Jolie, J.K. Simmons, and Dustin Hoffman. Premise-After the events of Kung Fu Panda 2, Po must face an otherworldly enemy while at the same time learning what it truly means to be a panda, and subsequently, who he really is. While I am going to try to remain professional, this review is going to contain quite a bit of geeking out. I will say that the geekiness is warranted, because the Kung Fu Panda franchise is vast and (for the most part) high in quality.
The trailers surprisingly (and commendably) didn’t reveal much about the plot about this movie, so it’s going to be difficult to describe certain scenes, but that will not prevent me from praising the heck out of this movie! The first five minutes of the film sets up the story incredibly well. It introduces characters, entertains, is stunning to look at, and even wraps up a few plot points. Speaking of the plot, you’ll be pleased to hear that it is just as strong as the other films! Aibel and Berger’s resumes are very mixed in terms of quality. First they’ll write an original, funny, and entertaining movie like Kung Fu Panda or Sponge Out of Water, but then they’ll write a lazy, annoying, and creatively bankrupt movie like The Squeakquel or Chipwrecked. So yeah, essentially the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies are just a place talented people can go to just to get a paycheck (I knew it). In any case, I am glad that whenever DreamWorks makes a Kung Fu Panda movie, they put all of their effort into it. You can really tell that with this movie, especially in the animation. The fight choreography, matte paintings, colors, backgrounds, character designs, lighting, Asian-inspired styles, cinematography, landscapes; it is truly something you have to see in the theatre!
Not only does this movie look resplendent, but it also has the technical aspect down as well. Hans Zimmer’s score, while not as epic as the previous films, adds even more depth and power to each scene. Hans and John Powell (who also composed How to Train Your Dragon) made a perfect combination for the first two films, and even though Powell sadly didn’t return, Hans is more than capable of holding his own. The voice acting is pure perfection! This trilogy has always had one of the best casts in film (Google “kung fu panda cast” and see the names I didn’t mention), the villains especially. First, Ian McShane, then Gary Oldman, and finally, J.K. Simmons. My gosh, you can just tell that every second his character (Kai) is on screen, he is enjoying himself! Both Simmons and Cranston hide their voices very well, and the result is two very unique and memorable characters. Speaking of characters, if you thought (like I did) that there was no more possible development, then you’d be wrong. Po’s character is finally completed, and the way they tied it in with the moral of the story (which is also well-executed) is nothing short of brilliant.
I’m not quite done listing the positives just yet! Considering that this is a comedy, it has to be funny, right? But of course, my good audience! While the comedic timing isn’t as pitch-perfect as it was in Kung Fu Panda 2, the amount of humor that is actually in this movie is what keeps it funny. This movie’s pace is faster than ever, and because of that, the jokes come at you in a rapid fire fashion. While a few of these jokes are copies from previous Kung Fu Panda movies (and some of them are just plain childish), the pace keeps any joke from overstaying its welcome. Finally, the third act. This is literally one of the best third acts, and one of the best climaxes, I have ever seen in cinema!!! Everything from the music, humor, message, story, tension, characters, and the franchise itself has been building up to this moment, combines to create pure (because no other word fits) AWESOMENESS! I heard the adults in my theatre gasping and laughing at this third act like never before, and you will as well, I guarantee it.
In regards to what I didn’t like, for one there is a certain character that shows up at around the 30-40 minute mark. While she does contribute to the plot later on, what she does up until then makes no sense, feels awkward, and was completely pointless. There are a few idiotic character decisions (painfully obvious ones) here and there, and the second act is a bit choppy. What bugged me the most was the fact that Tigress didn’t get any character development in this movie. In Kung Fu Panda 2, it was very clear that she had dimension and an interesting backstory. Kung Fu Panda 3 never delves into that character, which is a dang shame because she is the most bad*** character in the entire franchise! The only way you can see that backstory is if you watch the Secrets of the Furious Five video (which is like 20 minutes long). The movies should be the ones to explain the backstory of one of the main characters man! That’s like me watching It’s A Wonderful Life and the movie ending with the shot of George looking down at the water from the bridge, and the only way for me to see the quintessential moral was to buy a separate DVD! I get it, “milk a franchise for all it’s worth,” and all that crap. Although the video can be found on the internet, I still think Kung Fu Panda 3 could have done something with her character.
Negatives aside, I still love this movie! The franchise as a whole has accomplished much: it made saying “awesome” popular again while creating its own catchphrase (skadoosh) and it proved that you shouldn’t judge a movie by its title (which apparently we are still doing with last year’s Ant-Man). I can’t believe I am about to say this, but I mean every word. Kung Fu Panda is one of the greatest movie trilogies of all time! That’s right: Lord of the Rings, Toy Story, Indiana Jones, The Dark Knight, Star Wars, and now Kung Fu Panda. The Kung Fu Panda movies have only improved since they began (and that was already a strong start) bringing us top notch animation, compelling storylines, creative characters and voice acting, quirky humor, and a stellar combination of drama and action. There is no better movie to end January with (the month of egregious films) than a movie that was pushed back due to production delays, but still managed to be the best it can be, and that is all that matters. Kung Fu Panda 3 gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A.
Kung Fu Panda Franchise Ranked
Kung Fu Panda – B+
Kung Fu Panda 2 – A-
Kung Fu Panda 3 – A
Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Furious Five – B
Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Masters – B
Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness (TV Show) – C-
Yeah, this is my favorite DreamWorks franchise. Although I did quit the TV show after its first season because it just got too dang predictable and formulaic (mostly because they flanderize Po’s character way too much).