While I understand why people franchise movies, making sequels to kids movies always confused me a bit. Sure, a sequel can often be a safe bet, but by the time a third film rolls around, most of the kids who saw the original will be adults. Instead, these movies often rely on kids being exposed to the original films on DVD, which is a bit of a hindrance when it comes to advertising. That’s why it’s so shocking that this third Kung Fu Panda movie isn’t even the last one: three more movies are being prepared.
That said, if all of the Kung Fu Panda films end up being this solid, that might not be a problem. Continuing where the last movie left off, Po (Jack Black) is well-adjusted into his role as ‘The Dragon Warrior’. However, Po’s comfortability is challenged when his mentor, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) decides to retire and leave Po to teach the class. Po struggles, and eventually becomes frustrated over his lack of identity and Chi, or energy force. However, two things soon happen that significantly alter Po’s life: his lost-long father (Bryan Cranston) arrives in town, and a supernatural villain named Kai (J.K. Simmons) emerges from the shadow realm.
If there ever was an example of a simple, yet well-structured storyline it would be Kung Fu Panda 3. Written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger – the same two people who wrote the previous films – the story not only introduces new characters but develops upon original characters. The plotline is a bit obvious (you can see where it’s going from the opening sequence), but features dual internal and external conflicts, which converge wonderfully. These are joined with some nice layers and set at a great pace that keeps it enjoyable as it happens.
There are very few moments that are laugh-out-loud funny or tear-jerking sad, but the movie also doesn’t force anything. It’s interesting (and I want to say ironic?) that the film always appears under complete control, especially because it deals with Buddhism and the art of Kung Fu. This sense of control is perhaps why the film works, despite the fact that it’s about a panda voiced by Jack Black who does Kung Fu.
Another staple of the franchise is some absolutely stunning animation. Not only is it incredibly pretty, but it flexes its proverbial muscles and absolutely nails a variety of styles. Directed by Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh Nelson, there is a great sense of spatial awareness. Especially because of the significant amount of Kung Fu, there are a lot of great action sequences that showcase the movie’s powerful direction.
I find it fascinating that these movies essentially serve as action films for kids. Even though the material is kept light and the antagonistic motivations are simple, these movies do fulfill their basic promise of providing excellent fight choreography. It’s also unique in the fact that as a sequel, it is not attempting to go bigger or bolder. It’s also not simply resting on its laurels. The franchise is utilizing what worked with the previous films, and building on that.
Although the movie is nothing revolutionary or revelatory, it is short and sweet. It feels a bit enlightened in its own right, because as an audience member it is easy to just be completely content with what’s being shown on screen. I guess that’s what movies are all about. If this were the last film in the franchise, I’d say it was ending on a good note. But if there are more movies, I don’t think there should be any complaints. Especially if the other films are as solid as this trilogy. Now that Po has gone from novice to expert to instructor, maybe this franchise will complete his path towards enlightenment.
Elizabeth “Quill” Stern turns nine in six days. She’s had some thoughts on the previous few kids movies we’ve watched, and she has some thoughts here, too:
I think this movie really takes the cake (or the dumpling). It is about a panda who meets his dad and other pandas (for the first time). Along the way there are some of the best songs ever. If you want a movie that is silly and serious at the same time than Kung Fu Panda 3 is the right movie for you.