Director: Alessandro Carloni, Jennifer Yuh
Cast: Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, J.K. Simmons, James Hong, Kate Hudson, Seth Rogen
Running Time: 95 minutes
Regardless of how successful the film’s appear to be, Dreamworks Animation have yet to find a film they couldn’t spin into a franchise. Ranging from spin-off films like PUSS IN BOOTS to television series’ like PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR; Dreamworks have proven that they aren’t willing to let go of a good idea. Their most recent release, KUNG FU PANDA 3, almost exists as the quintessential Dreamworks film, as it highlights both the pros and cons of this creative process.
Once again we follow prophesied dragon-warrior and lovable buffoon Po (Jack Black) as he takes his next step into being a true Kung-Fu master: learning to be a teacher. However, Po’s journey to become a teacher is complicated by the return of Kai (J.K. Simmons), a bull once banished to the spirit realm (read: heaven/hell, but for kids!) for half a millennium. Kai is on a hunt to capture the chi of all the martial arts masters of China, leaving Po and the Furious Five members (voiced by Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu and David Cross) to stop Kai.
Except since this is the third film, Kai is immune to previous methods of victory.
To combat him, Po must become a Chi Master, a skill only known by the lost Panda village. All of this coincidental happens as Po’s biological father, Li (Bryan Cranston), returns to find his thought missing son. This sets Po off on a journey to conquer his final challenge; to discover who he really is.
If you’ve seen any of the previous KUNG FU PANDA films, then you pretty much know this film beat for beat. A handful of unsurprising twists and some minor fights bloat out the same story of “Po must learn a new skill to defeat the bad guy.” That’s fine, and occasionally funny, but with every film in the series following the same basic story an exhaustive sense of diminishing returns hangs over the film.
Which is a shame because KUNG FU PANDA 3 boasts one of the most impressive ensemble casts for animated films. Returning cast members are put to the test by the exceptional additions of Bryan Cranston, Kate Hudson, and J.K. Simmons; each who bring new levels of depth to the film’s world. Some of the best moments of the film are born when the focus is taken away from Po, which doesn’t happen nearly enough.
Despite a relatively tired story, KUNG FU PANDA 3 pushes itself forward in the beautiful animation. Two sequences in particular – a hand-drawn flashback sequence and a painted training montage – showcase the studio’s talent to go beyond the 3D animation the studio is known for. Coating the screen in vivid yellows and greens add in making this one of the best looking animation films in a long time.
KUNG FU PANDA 3 is complicated sell. If you’ve seen the previous films, then you will be getting more of the great cast, gorgeous animation, and occasional laughs. Vice-versa, if you’ve seen the previous films this is just another one of those. If anything, KUNG FU PANDA 3 is a testament to the capabilities of Dreamworks Animation, who have perfected the technique of perfectly serviceable children films.
KUNG FU PANDA 3 is released in US cinemas January 29 and March 11 in the UK.