I love the Kung Fu Panda movies so much. Dreamworks has never really made that many animated productions that stand up to their contemporaries with the exception of the ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ movies and these films. The first movie was excellent, the second movie even better, in fact Kung Fu Panda 2 is probably in my top 25 favourite movies ever, it’s my favourite martial arts movie and one of the prime examples I give on how to make a good sequel. In fact it’s one of the few times where the sequel is better than the original film. The films aren’t perfect, I grant you that, but I really don’t care, I love these films. The music is excellent, the animation is top notch, the voice actors are great in their roles, the stories are very funny but also heartfelt. I think every parent that has been dragged along to see these films think they are in for a rough time but come out really appreciative of the movie they have just seen. Now I gushed about Kung Fu Panda 2 to all my friends but I am almost surprised this movie even got made considering the last film wasn’t as much of a success that it could have been and I thought the sequel was potentially gone. Now this wasn’t down to the films quality or the fact that it didn’t do too well or that the critics savaged it before the film was even released, far from it the critics were actually rather kind to it, it was because in America it came out on the same weekend as The Hangover Part 2 and it’s one of the major reasons I absolutely despise that movie. Yes, Kung Fu Panda 2 shows how to expand a story and do something different with your characters while still keeping with the originals feel. Hangover Part 2 was an example of, let’s just copy and paste the original film and just set it in a different location, oh and just change a few of the features around so apparently it’s a different movie that way!! It would have been a real shame if this movie never got made because of that especially considering that the ending implied there was going to be a third movie.
I raised my expectations for Kung Fu Panda 3 initially because I loved the first 2 films so much and I thought there was no way they could make a massive miss out of this franchise, but I actually rather tempered my expectations down because I thought there was a possibility that this one could just be ok and I thought if I just think it’s going to be ok that way I won’t be too disappointed. In preparation for this review, not only did I watch both Kung Fu Panda films again, I also watched a lot of the short animated specials including Secret of the Furious Five, Secret of the Masters and the most recently released Secret of the Scrolls, if you like Anime I would seriously recommend these because unlike the films which use 3D computer animation, these ones use the lovingly hand drawn 2D animation similar to what is used in the flashback sequence in the early portions of the films and I highly recommend them. They really shed some interesting light on the origins stories of all the various characters. It wasn’t just that that raised my expectations though, I have had a ton of disappointing and mediocre films to deal with over the last few weeks, with the exception of Deadpool, and I was just pleading for one film to come out that would just make me happy. So, despite its late release, it was originally meant to come out at Christmas and was moved because it didn’t want to compete with Star Wars, I went to the special previews of the film on Mothers Day weekend to see if one of my favourite animation franchises could continue its good run. By the way, spoilers for the ending of Kung Fu Panda 2 coming up.
The plot of Kung Fu Panda 3 is that Po (played by Jack Black) is ascending to the next level of his training, going from a student to being the master, however he is not doing too well at it, at the same time, his biological father Li (played by Bryan Cranston) returns to reconnect with his son after receiving his vision at the end of the second movie. The two start to bond but vicious Kai (played by J K Simmons) has escaped from the spirit world and vows to take the Chi of every martial arts master in China and only a Chi Master can stop him which is an art famously taught by the Panda’s. In order to learn this Po returns with his father to a secret Panda village in the mountains to reconnect with what it means to be a Panda, but can he master this technique before Kai makes it there himself. The screenplay is once again written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger who wrote the previous film plus in recent memory have written the third Alvin and the Chipmunks movie and last years Spongebob Straight Out of Water movie. Director Jennifer Yuh is back in charge, though this time she is co-directing with Alessandro Carloni who makes his feature film directorial debut so this is virtually the same creative team behind Kung Fu Panda 2, so it’s a shame to say that I think this is the weakest of the 3 films. That’s not to say that this is a bad film, far from it. Kung Fu Panda 3 is actually really good, it just seems like everything is a little less this time. Kung Fu Panda 2 felt like a perfect progression of the plot this one feels like it stays on the level. I will stress, it’s not bad it is genuinely good especially when compared with Alvin & The Chipmunks the Road Chip which was the first family film I saw after this and was pure garbage. In fact it looks better than many animated films that I have been seeing trailers for lately, it’s certainly better than what I expect the upcoming Angry Birds movie is going to be like. There are couple of minor continuity gaffs from the previous film, for example, it’s reported early on that Li doesn’t know martial arts, which kind of contradicts the flashback that we saw in Kung Fu Panda 2 when he was defending his village from Lord Shen and his pack of wolves. Ok as I grant you, that is a minor gaffe, but there are a couple more points I need to make. The first point being that I think the film feels kind of underwhelming, the plot’s good, it actually delivers some of the decent heartfelt moments that the last 2 movies achieved. the film is once again a really good mix of action and comedy, including many of the scenes including the Pandas and while there are a ton of laughs in the film, a couple of them feel cheaper than they did in the previous films though most of the joke absolutely hit bullseye. I also think the film is a lot more heavily reliant of running gags than the previous ones which does make me suspect that the marketing department or someone else in the studio might have interfered with the production of the film, though I don’t think this is too obvious as there haven’t been too many product placements for this film aside from the adverts advertising Sky Broadband. All that being said most of of the running gags are at least funny
What do I like about this film? Po’s relationships with his fathers, they are both done very well, mainly because Po’s adoptive father, Mr Ping, played by James Hong comes along and he has to deal with being an outsider in the Panda village whereas Po feels more like he is getting in touch with his heritage. The film does have a decent conflict around Po not knowing who he is or what he is supposed to be but it does feel like a slight re-tread of the lesson he learnt in Kung Fu Panda 2, the idea of ‘you must first conquer yourself before you conquer others’, but Kung Fu Panda 2 felt more personal. This one doesn’t quite do that. I’m making it sound like I didn’t enjoy this movie, but I genuinely did the themes of identity and family still felt like they are well written. For example, the villain does feel like a genuine threat, now granted Kai is not nearly as good as Tai Lung and Lord Shen from the previous 2 movies, but I think that’s down to the fact that his back story is not as interesting or as fleshed out as those villains. We do find out that he worked with Master Oogway in the past and that they were very close, almost like brothers, but his motivation is really kind of down to that he wants power for powers sake! They never really elaborate more on his motivation other than that. What does he want the power for, is there an invading force threatening his home, does he fear that he will let Oogway down again if he doesn’t get the power, what? Kai also has an excellent power which not only can absorb the Chi of the Masters he can create Jade replicas (which the film affectionately refers to as Jade Zombies or Jombies) of any of the Masters he has taken Chi from so it gives us a wide variety of fine styles to work with and the action scenes can vary in lots of creative ways. If there is one thing this film does well it’s the journey to the final resolution. Po’s solution to defeat Kai is very well thought out and feels like a natural progression of his character and that he has taken a lot of the martial arts philosophy to heart. Po’s progression and the progression of all the characters is once again what this series does best.
Anyone who has seen the movie will know what I am on about. I also think this film has some of the best spontaneous comedy of the trilogy, there are some excellent laughs in here and the majority of them don’t feel cheap. I went to a late night screening of this so there was only one family with kids and the cinema was mostly filled with adults and this film got lots of laugh, and that means that the comedy is genuinely well written and doesn’t pander to a young demographic at the expense of their parents or treat children like they are morons.
If there is one thing to talk about, it’s the fight scenes. The fight scenes once again are fantastic, producing some of the best animated martial arts I have seen in a while and I’m really glad they kept up this standard. The film also has an excellent climax, which rather sadly provides the idea that this is the finale to the franchise. There is no hook for a sequel like there was in the 2nd movie, but I would say that the actual ending also feels different, it doesn’t have the sombre and humble ending that the first one had or the awe inspiring heartfelt emotional end that the 2nd film had and it also reeks of studio interference, though it could also be that the creators wanted to celebrate what the movies had done up to this point. I also wasn’t as big a fan of the credit sequence, considering that the credits of the last 2 movies were beautifully animated and this one feels rather lazy. Instead of giving us lovingly crafted 2D animation it simply recycles clips from the film.
Kung Fu Panda 3’s plot is still very well character driven. I do love these characters, in fact I would even go so far as to say that Po might be Jack Black’s best character to date, because he feels like a defined character rather than just an extension of Jack Black’s real life personality. Though there is an element of that in Po. This film does feel phenomenally short as well and I think thats down to the fact that the film doesn’t have that many plot turns and twist like the 2nd film had, because there’s not a long amount of difference in the running time between films. In short, the plot’s really good, it’s well told and well executed, and makes the film worth a watch, it just doesn’t reach the great levels that the first 2 films did, but that’s hardly a major criticism because I actually think it’s very good and I think kids and their parents will enjoy it. The most annoying part of this film is that is has a liar revealed sub plot which I’m going to join Doug Walker in not really being a fan of, but luckily it’s very short, to the point and it’s over and done with very quickly instead of being dragged out like I have seen in many kids films, especially the abysmal Sharks Tail.
As per usual Kung Fu Panda 3 has an all star cast, while many of the guest cast members from Kung Fun Panda 3 haven’t returned like Michelle Yeoh and Jean Claude Van Damme. , many of the regulars are here. Jack Black is once again excellent as Po, Angelina Jolie is probably at some of her best playing Tigress, comedic actors David Cross and Seth Rogen do very well as Crane and Mantis, who even get a couple of scenes to feed off each other which delivers some really good comedy. Jackie Chan gets enough lines as Monkey this time to make his scene relevant, seriously it’s only since the 2nd film that there has really been a point for Jackie Chan to be playing this character he barely got any lines in the first film. Dustin Hoffman doesn’t get much to do playing Master Shifu, but I think that’s for the best considering Shifu’s story was pretty much finishing in the first film so he’s more meant to be guidance for Po which Dustin Hoffman does very well, I almost think he was born to play martial arts master in a film considering how well he has been playing Shifu across this franchise, and of course as per usual he gets some very funny lines in the film, especially at the end. J K Simmons is one of the new cast members being a villain actor this time, and once again we’ve got a great villain in the role. Now J K Simmons is very used to voice acting roles considering that he was in all 4 seasons of Legend of Korra and he brings his A game again proving he is a very good method actor. I don’t think he has quite the same presence as Ian McShane or Gary Oldham who played the villains in the previous 2 films but I think it’s more down to the material he is given. Lucy Lui as Viper is the returning cast member who is probably given the least amount of lines, she barely feels like she has much of a presence in this film, which is a shame because I think she is a very good actress and these roles really suit her. James Hong does very well reprising his role as Mr Ping having the largest role he has had in any of the films to date and while his role does feel slightly over expanded he does have a decent pay off, James Hong once again plays the character brilliantly. Bryan Cranston is the biggest addition to the film’s cast and he gives a really good performance. The only criticism I have about him is that I believe you can feel the celebrity voice in the recording booth more so than the other actors but I still felt he was playing a character rather than himself .The other character to talk about is Mei Mei who in this film is played by Kate Hudson who gets a rather small part as the Panda who specialises in rhythm dancing. She gets a decent part, though her running gag is not quite as funny but she does a decent job with the part and I think a lot of people will have trouble guessing that it is her playing the role. I actually thought it was Rebel Wilson for a while. In short we once again have an all star cast doing a brilliant job though once again, a couple of cast members do feel under done, though I think that’s down to the writing rather than anything else.
Lets move on to the technical category now. My goodness, the animation is still excellent. This is some of the most beautiful 3D computer animation out there that brings to life the Chinese landscapes and has amazing colours and textures. The characters are very expressive and brilliantly designed and they all have designs to go with their personality. The animation also suits the fight scenes very well, which are all excellent. Seriously, this is one of the animated films that Disney should be taking notes from. Whichever studio is doing the Angry Birds movie, this is also a film you should take ideas from, considering, judging from the trailers, your characters look butt ugly! Can you tell Angry Birds was one of the trailers I saw before this movie? I am reviewing it for the website after it comes out in May and yes I am prepared to eat my words if it turns out to be a good movie, I am just not holding my breath. I also have to discuss my thought on the score, which once again is fantastic. Hans Zimmer once again returns to compose the music score and he does a brilliant job with his traditional orchestra as well as blending Chinese instruments into the mix, it suits the environment perfectly and I actually think this is another one of his great ones. If there is one thing to criticise about the soundtrack I wasn’t as big a fan of this films rendition of Kung Fu Fighting that plays during the end credits, I don’t think it’s as good a CeeLo Green’s cover that played at the end of the first film.
I saw the film in 3D and I actually recommend seeing the film in that format. I reckon you could watch the film in 2D and still have a good time, however, the 3D is actually very well integrated, the objects and landscapes appear in the foreground and background very well, there are enough decent 3D effects without having things flying at the screen and at no point when I was watching this film did I not suddenly forget that I was watching the film in 3D which is a rarity these days. Now granted I don’t think it’s as good as Kung Fu Panda 2’s 3D but I still think it proves once again that animation tends to do better in the 3D format than their live action counterparts. If the timing is better for you I would recommend paying extra to get the 3D glasses to see the film.
Kung Fu Panda 3 is a good film, I genuinely enjoyed it and it was a good movie going experience. It had good characters, a decent story and some really great animation fight scenes, plus there was some really good 3D in it. It just doesn’t quite live up to it’s 2 predecessors and while the humour is pretty good it does feel like it is pandering more than usual, though that’s not to say there were some really good laughs in the film and in reality this is simply the weakest of a really good trilogy. It’s well worth a watch especially if you have kids, and judging from my screening the adults will also get something out of it. I would say, if you enjoy martial arts films, see all three and don’t be put of by all three of these films horrible advertising campaigns which don’t show off what the quality of the films are at all. It’s probably worth picking up all the supplementary spin off material as well, including all of the secrets trilogy and the holiday special.
Is Kung Fu Panda 3 as good as it’s previous two movies, not quite, but by no means is it a disappointment.
“So what are your thought on Kung Fu Panda 3? Did you agree with me or were your opinions different? Please leave a comment, I appreciate all opinions.”
What film did you see a trailer for that completely puts you off going to see the film? For me, at the moment, it’s Angry Birds.
Well we are getting closer and closer to the biggest release of the year, but I wanted a nice stop gap before I review the upcoming Batman V Superman, so come back on 25 March where I will be reviewing an anime movie “Fusé: Memoirs of a Hunter Girl”.
Thanks for reading my review, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, and finally another good movie out this year that isn’t Deadpool.
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