Since being pleasantly surprised by Kung Fu Panda and blown away by Kung Fu Panda 2, I had been hotly anticipating the third instalment in what could have become one of my favourite animation trilogies; whilst Kung Fu Panda 3 fails to live up to these expectations it is regardless still leaps and bounds ahead of a majority of its competition.
The high speed energy and remarkable heart this franchise is known for is again present with the introduction of Po’s father bringing the franchise full circle. I admire the film tackling the issues of being a step father with James Hong’s Mr Ping (my favourite supporting character of the franchise) being pushed into the spotlight to provide an entertaining subplot fighting with Bryan Cranston’s Li Shan over Po’s affections. The wealth of new pandas are hit and miss – ribbon dancer Mei Mei provided a few laughs but the cute jokes and mentally challenged pandas were felt a bit overplayed. Unlike the previous entry in the series, the focus here is clearly on character over action with fewer set pieces but more emotional moments. Despite this, the scenes taking place in the Spirit Realm provide some of the most imaginative and stunning fights I have ever seen. By far the most aesthetically pleasing of the trilogy; the hints at a more stylistic animation style have finally been capitalised on with the use of striking colours and transitions making Kung Fu Panda 3, more than just a kids film, a piece of cinematic art.
While enjoyable, I couldn’t help being distracted by the derivative nature of the plot. Once again Po is faced with the weight of his destiny as the dragon warrior and once again he shows no sign of the heroism expected of him till the final battle where a deus ex machina saves the day; however the heart and energy of the previous entries feels slightly lacklustre with a rushed story, weak villain and the separation of Po from his Kung Fu comrades the Furious Five giving a disjointed feeling that prevents Kung Fu Panda 3 from achieving the same heights as its predecessors. A particular sore spot was the use of the ‘liar revealed’ cliché that has the potential for ruining otherwise decent films for me; thankfully the inevitable fallout between characters is short lived and so then was my frustration.Whilst the idea of the jade zombies was visually and thematically interesting, I was again distracted by the similarities to one of my favourite episodes of Xiaolin Showdown which featured a suspiciously similar storyline. The aforementioned villain Kai failed to capture my interest in the same way Gary Oldmans Lord Shen did despite a great effort by JK Simmons; simply lacking as compelling a motivation or an intriguing enough design to match the panda hating peacock.
Though it is weak in comparison to its predecessors, Kung Fu Panda 3 is still a great film for children and adults alike – offering action, heart and everything one would expect from a tent pole of DreamWorks animated library. SKADOOSH!