Thursday, January 28, 2016
Review: "Kung Fu Panda 3"
I was not a fan of “Kung Fu Panda 2.” It seemed like an indulgent sequel made for the sake of having a sequel (not to mention critic-proof box office $$$). I enjoyed being able to brag that I’d never walked out of a movie or fallen asleep during one; after “Panda 2,” I could no longer assert the latter.
So I’m happy to report “Kung Fu Panda 3” is a return to joyous form. Perhaps because it’s been nearly five years since the last one, the filmmakers took a little time to figure out what they wanted to do on a third go-round. Here Po (Jack Black), the tubby bear who became the unlikely choice to hold the mantle of the mighty and beneficent Dragon Warrior, gets to rediscover his roots and find his true inner panda.
If you’ll recall (I didn’t), at the end of “2” we see an older panda in a remote mountain village having a transcendent moment: “My son is alive!” Now the old man turns up in Po’s village looking for him, voiced agreeably by Bryan Cranston. Of course, because these movies are comedies first, the two don’t recognize each other -- despite being the only pandas around.
Needless to say, the reunion gets happier from there. Though not for Po’s goose adoptive dad (emotively voiced by James Hong), who feels threatened by a competing paternal figure. Especially when Po decamps to the hidden panda village to learn the secret of controlling his ch’i.
That’s the Chinese word for the energy source for all living things, which according to legend the pandas used to heal the sick and wounded -- in between downing mountains of food. (Think “The Force,” but with dumplings.)
They need a master of ch’i because there’s a new baddie on the horizon: Kai, a power-mad bull who was banished to the spirit realm 500 years ago by Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), the turtle kung fu master who first anointed Po. Snortingly voiced by J.K. Simmons, Kai has found a way back to the mortal world by stealing the ch’i of Oogway and the other masters.
Other familiar characters return, notably the Ferocious Five (now simply called The Five): stern Tigress (Angelina Jolie), wisecracking Mantis (Seth Rogen), as well as Viper (Lucy Liu), Monkey (Jackie Chan) and Crane (David Cross), whose personalities sort of get pushed to the sides. Wise-but-crotchety Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and his pupils try to make a stand against Kai, but like the others get their spirit absorbed by him and turned into jade zombies, which Po quickly dubs “jombies.”
Directed by Jennifer Yuh and Alessandro Carloni from a screenplay by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger – who have been script men for all three films -- “Kung Fu Panda 3” has the same nice mix of martial arts action, humor and tugging emotions as the first movie.
For instance, one of the running jokes is that Kai announces himself wherever he goes as this infamous world-conquering destroyer, but nobody’s ever heard of him. And, of course, there are plenty of bits about Po’s fellow pandas being self-indulgent feasters and slackers -- they prefer rolling down hills to walking.
When Po sees even the little pandas putting away the grub he quips, “I’ve always felt like I wasn’t eating up to my full potential.”
This is one of those animated flicks intended for kids but with enough cleverness and little flourishes to keep the adults fully engaged, too.