Kung Fu Panda 3
Alessandro Carloni, Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, J.K. Simmons, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Kate Hudson, James Hong, Randall Duk Kim, Steele Gagnon, Liam Knight, Wayne Knight, Barbara Dirickson, Al Roker, Willie Geist, Fred Tatasciore, Pax Jolie-Pitt
PG for martial arts action and some mild rude humor
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
From a purely visual standpoint, no animation franchise is more bold and beautiful than Kung Fu Panda and the third installment is exemplary in terms of craftsmanship and creativity.
At the foundation of this sumptuous computer animated art piece is the simple story of a young panda, adopted by a goose, and embarking on a quest to find out who he is. After coming to terms with being the Dragon Warrior, Po (Jack Black) went in search of inner peace. Now, as a spirit warrior emerges to steal the chi from the masters of each clan, Po must learn not only who he is, but how to teach others.
As with the prior films, the Furious Five (Tigress, Viper, Mantis, Crane and Monkey) are relegated to side characters; however, it is done so early in the film that the joys of seeing them in action are largely diminished. Instead, Po follows his recently-reunited father into the mountains to spend time with the pandas that survived the onslaught of the second film’s villain. There, he hopes that he will learn the pandas’ legendary healing techniques, which will enable him to save the Valley of Peace and the martial arts masters that have been captured by the villainous yak Kai (J.K. Simmons).
The narrative is simply told, doubling both as an exploration of the nature of family and an adventure about discovering one’s inner strength and tranquility, bringing to bear the vast lessons learned in the prior outings. While Po’s father Li (Bryan Cranston) is an interesting, if selfish, character, the panda village itself is the most compelling reveal in this film.
Although it’s largely filled with stereotypes, the myriad denizens of the panda enclave create a rich tapestry of selfless characters, engaging personalities and unique skill sets, all of which come together in the film’s final thrilling battle sequence. The creativity that writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger infuse this story with fits perfectly with the franchise’s prior entries, creating a rich triptych of adventures. A little more focus on Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and the Furiosu Five might have given the film a deeper breadth, but keeping things simple helps pinpoint the themes and action efficiently.
The second film’s director, Jennifer Yuh Nelson, is joined in the third outing by animator Alessandro Carloni and together they guide an exciting and resplendent production. Once again choosing visual panache in line with the traditional animation styles associated with China, the film captures the imagination, drawing the viewer emotionally into the film. The predominant art style may be three-dimensional computer animation, a standard in the industry, but those breathtaking artistic twists make for a much more engaging experience. The combination of the two styles in the two sequences set in the spirit world are as gorgeous as anything the series has created.
Pixar may be able to craft heartwarming and allegorical tales like few others, but DreamWorks Animation has its own emotional connection to provide. Kung Fu Panda 3 has morals to put before its young audience, but adults can take those same lessons and apply them to their own lives. It’s a duality of purpose that engages the mind and spirit of those who watch it. It’s an almost transcendental experience that goes beyond simple stories and polemics.
Those who’ve enjoyed the prior two DreamWorks offerings will no doubt find great pleasure in giving this third effort a look. The consistency of the quality animation, accessible profundity and exciting action unify in a warm, inviting blend rarely equaled in modern animation.
Probables: Animated Feature
March 22, 2016