In Kung Fu Panda 3, Jack Black returns as Po, the delightfully unorthodox kung fu-fighting panda, in an adventure that pits him against a new — although ancient — foe, and leads him on a challenging journey of self-discovery. And after spending the first two films in the franchise learning the ways of kung fu, this time, the student becomes the master. When Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) decides it’s time to pass his teaching duties to Po, suddenly the plump panda is teaching his former peers: Crane (David Cross), Tigress, (Angelina Jolie) Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Mantis (Seth Rogen). To put it simply, it doesn’t go well, but as Shifu reassures both the neophyte teacher and his battered students, “If you only do what you can do, you will only be what you are now.”
That resiliency comes in handy when Po and the Furious Five face a new and nearly impossible foe, Kai (J.K. Simmons), the Supreme Warlord of all China. The fear-inducing yak was once brother-in-arms to Oogway (Randal Duk Kim) — the creator of kung fu, and the tortoise who initially sensed Po’s destiny as the Dragon Warrior. But Kai has hatched a diabolic plan to steal the chi — the energy that flows through all living things — from all kung fu fighters and use their accumulated power to defeat Po. Kai wears the purloined chi as jade amulets on his belt, which he willfully unleashes as a legion of willing jade zombies, or “jombies.”
At the same time, Po discovers his long-lost biological father, Li (Bryan Cranston), and is whisked to a paradise-like valley filled with his panda brethren. Suddenly amongst dumpling-loving, nap-taking, hill-rolling kin, Po feels pulled between two seemingly mutually exclusive worlds: the dangerous and regimented world of kung fu and the over-affectionate and easygoing lives that pandas lead. Of course the discovery of Po’s relatives is also a threat to his adoptive father, Mr. Ping (James Hong), who has tagged along on Po’s father-son voyage under the guise of keeping him fed. Though moviegoers finally get a satisfying answer to the question, “What happened to Po’s family?” the goose’s feathers are ruffled by jealousy towards the belly-gonging panda that has usurped his status as Po’s papa.
In a bit of cinematic coincidence, these newfound pandas possess an inherent mastery of chi. Po turns to his newfound family to teach him to master chi and then enlists them to help defeat Kai. While his earlier attempts at teaching his peers were disastrous, Po learns to optimize each panda’s strengths to maximum hilarity. You will never again doubt the effectiveness of a panda in a hammock, and you’ll also come to appreciate the lethal potential of a ribbon, especially when wielded by the comely and charming Mei Mei, voiced by Kate Hudson.
The film boasts a star-studded cast (including four members of the Jolie-Pitt brood — Pax, Zahara, Shiloh and Knox) but I found the film’s biggest standouts to be its impressive visuals, which I found to be a more sumptuous treat than a bowl filled with dumplings, which I admittedly craved after watching the film.
The film is rife with kid-friendly messages including “be the best you that you can be,” “there is always something else to learn, even for a master,” and “sometimes we do the wrong things for the right reasons,” but these gentle messages of pithy encouragement are sweet reminders that there is more to life (and martial arts) than kicking and punching.
This third film in the franchise (which also includes a TV series, Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness) could easily wrap the series up as a trilogy, but I’m sure that for the right script (i.e. $$$), the stars would come back to tell another tale. More pandas, more awesomeness!
Kung Fu Panda 3 is available beginning June 28 on Video On Demand. Check your cable system for availability.
© 2015 DreamWorks Animation LLC All Rights Reserved