Angelina Jolie and Jack Black in Kung Fu Panda 3
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I’m inclined to go easy on Kung Fu Panda 3 because Norm of the North is so f*cking bad, and indeed, it is better than that garbage movie. But despite some pretty flashy animation, Kung Fu Panda 3 is not especially good. It’s basically Kung Fu Panda, just with more. More what? More everything. Parents will undoubtedly find it a perfectly adequate ninety-minute babysitter, but unless you’re a hardcore animation fan, there’s no reason for anyone else to see this movie. Have you seen either of the previous Kung Fu Pandas? Then you’ve seen #3, too.
For the third outing, Po the panda (Jack Black) is reunited with his long-lost panda father, Li (Bryan Cranston), who takes him back to the secret panda village to meet others of his kind. Po’s adoptive father, Mr. Ping the goose (James Hong), tags along, as do Po’s friends, including Angelina Jolie as Tigress. There is no reason for Po’s friends to come along and they are virtually useless within the story as well, but they’re here to ensure toy sales I guess. It’s really a credit to the cast that no one is phoning it in and they all give real performances. They make #3 watchable in spite of itself, especially Hong, Cranston, and Black.
The panda village is full of new panda characters—again, WHY are Po’s friends dragged along when there are all these new characters to deal with?—including flirty ribbon-dancer Mei Mei (Kate Hudson), and a band of Minion-like obstructionists in the form of cute baby pandas. Po’s panda idyll is interrupted by Kai (JK Simmons), a mystical bull taking Kung Fu masters’ qi, including the qi of Po’s friends, who then become even more useless. So Po has to fight Kai and restore balance to the Force something something happy ending. This movie is not made for adults.
But it’s bright and pretty and Po is funny and the baby pandas are absurdly cute, so kids ought to be happy with it. I can’t believe kids aren’t smart enough to understand that this is now the third time that Kung Fu Panda has sold them the story of Po overcoming doubt to triumph over evil—and at this point, really, what does he have left to doubt?—but DreamWorks Animation assumes kids aren’t that smart. The “try hard, be yourself” message is sweet and all, but we live in a world where Inside Out exists. And anything made by Aardman Studios, who specialize in the sort of light-hearted fun movies like Kung Fu Panda 3 aim for, yet Aardman manages to consistently make original stories that delight and surprise. There’s nothing wrong with #3, but there’s nothing especially delightful for surprising about it, either. And it’s definitely not original.