Everybody was… well, you know.
Po the Dragon Warrior (voice of Jack Black) has kept his village safe for a time when he meets a questing panda named Li (voice of Bryan Cranston) looking for his long-lost son — so yeah, it’s Po’s real dad. Agreeing to travel to a secret panda village where they originally hid from Lord Shen (see Kung Fu Panda 2), Po’s adopted father Ping (voice of James Hong) tags along due to a lack of trust, not to mention feeling Po slipping away from him. Meanwhile, a supernatural foe named Kai (voice of J.K. Simmons) has risen from the underworld to amass power, defeating warriors and taking their abilities for his own. With his sights set on the Dragon Warrior himself, Po the student will have to become Po the teacher to whip the panda villagers into kung fu shape… but in his own special way.
To be honest, these Kung Fu Panda movies have always been cinematic junk food. Sure, they’re fun and clever, but it’s as if someone said “Hey! What if we remade Beverly Hills Ninja with Jack Black and animated it so he could actually fight?” Black plays Po as the fanboy that can’t not be a fanboy, even when he’s leading the group he idolizes. It’s the infectious charm and humble self-depreciation that works with all other characters playing straight man to Black’s antics — although the dream vocal cast of supporting characters is always right on the money. In this third and presumably final installment — really, how much farther can they go from here? — does the Dragon Warrior become the Dragon Master?
After the dire second film with Gary Oldman’s Lord Shen chewing animated scenery, some of the fun of the original film was missing. This third installment figures out a way to fit that back in and is all the better for it. J.K. Simmons’ Kai has an air of whimsy that neither boss villains Ti Lung nor Shen had, and it throws Po off his game — it’s not overconfidence doing the talking. While the newness of the original film is long gone, this third installment is not just the culmination of the series but the best of them… and the perfect place to stop.
Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and the original Furious Five (Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, and David Cross) accept a diminished role with so many new characters in the film, but it is Po’s story, after all. As the plot gets going, most of it is easy to see coming, but kudos to the writers for figuring out not only an important loophole for the story, but figuring out a loophole to the loophole — Po’s not so dumb! It’s a memorable plot point to flesh out a grand finale, just one more reason why this is satisfying enough to end the story right here.
Kung Fu Panda 3 is family friendly, but fans of the series will get far more out of it than your average viewer new to the series.
3 Skull Recommendation Out of Four