In “Kung Fu Panda 3,” Po (voice of Jack Black), the Warrior of Black-and-White, continues his “legendary adventures of awesomeness” when his long-lost panda father suddenly reappears. The movie reunites the stars from the first two films, Angelina Jolie and Dustin Hoffman, and ups the marquee value with the addition of Bryan Cranston as Po’s dad and J.K. Simmons as Kai, a supernatural bull villain but will it deliver the same kind of Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique fun of the first two?
A quick catch-up: Over the course of two films dating back to 2008, a clumsy, giant panda named Po became an improbable hero, dumpling eating champion and kung fu master. Raised by a noodle-making goose named Mr. Ping (James Hong), he becomes the leader of the Furious Five—Angelina Jolie Pitt as Tigress, Jackie Chan as Monkey, Seth Rogen as Mantis, Lucy Liu as Viper and David Cross as Crane—a celebrated band of warriors with prodigious fighting skills.
The new film sees Po reunited with his biological father Li Shan (Cranston) who takes his son back to the Panda Village so the youngster can learn about himself and become a Chi master. Meanwhile Kai (Simmons) has returned to the mortal world after a five hundred year absence with an army of Jade Warriors. He’s been collecting the Chi—the life force—of China’s masters and only needs two more for a complete set, the ancient tortoise Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) and his protégée, who happens to be Po.
The “Kung Fu Panda” movies don’t look like anything else. State of the art 3D computer animation brings the characters to life, but the gorgeous hand drawn animation in the action sequences is uncommonly sumptuous and gives the movie real character. High tech and traditional art collide to create a beautiful backdrop for the slapstick of Po and company.
Simmons and Cranston are welcome additions to the cast, bringing distinctive voices and humour to their characters.
The visuals are captivating but the star here, the reason to return for a third time to the “Kung Fu Panda” franchise, is Po. He’s a classic character, an underdog (underbear?) unsure of his abilities, going up against great challenges. He’s lovable, aspirational and audiences like to laugh with him, rather than at him. He is us… only in panda form and he—along with Jack Black’s voice work—is worth the price of admission.
“Kung Fu Panda 3” is the rare sequel that holds up to the original. It’s respectful to the story but more importantly it’s respectful to the audiences who have grown to love these characters.