Kung Fu fun

Third “Kung Fu Panda” kicks it out of the park

There are good animated movies. There are fun animated movies. There are emotionally complex animated movies. And then there is “Kung Fu Panda 3,”a film that manages to combine all of the above with an air of awesomeness strong enough to punch you in the face.

I do not believe I have ever seen a movie trilogy of any genre like “Kung Fu Panda”before, where each installment is significantly better than the last. This is no mean feat, as the first “Kung Fu Panda”was such a good movie. However, “Kung Fu Panda 2”managed to outshine its predecessor in nearly every way, impressing critics and audiences alike. However, “Kung Fu Panda 3”had to overcome the curse of the trilogy: the second film is the high point.

Really, “Kung Fu Panda 3”could have settled for being a bland copy of the tropes at the heart of its two predecessors and it would have been a perfectly serviceable movie. However, the staff at Dreamworks Animation chose to go the extra mile to create the ultimate “Kung Fu Panda”story, one that builds on the charming and interesting characters and fascinating world established in the previous two movies.

The story follows in the formula of the previous two to some extent, especially at first: a mysterious and powerful villain rises up to try to conquer all of China, and Po (voiced by Jack Black) and his stalwart friends, the Furious Five, must set out to stop him. However, as with “Kung Fu Panda 2,”there is a deeper emotional core surrounding Po as he tries to discover who he is.

Having come to terms with being adopted and finding his own family at the end of “2,” Po’s world is shocked when his real father (voiced by Bryan Cranston), turns up and he discovers that he is not, indeed, the last of the Pandas, but that an entire village of Pandas exists. As Po discovers what it means to be a panda, and deals with the fact that he is a child of two worlds, one he was born in and one he was raised in, there is a very touching subplot involving his adoptive and biological fathers as they come to terms with their roles in Po’s life.

This kind of story is not told very often in animation, and the profound sense of frustration and confusion experienced by the characters throughout feels very reasonable and relatable. The theme of identity and self-discovery runs strong throughout.The villain, Kai (voiced by J. K. Simmons), defines himself by those he has defeated rather than his identity, placing him in direct thematic opposition (as the best villains are) to Po and Po’s journey of self-discovery. This forms the core of a riveting and quite beautiful, if predictable, narrative, complimented by well-developed characters that you can’t help but love.

As always with this franchise, the animation is achingly gorgeous. Both fans of 3D and 2D animation will be blown away by the beauty and quality of every single scene, with the brief segments of 2D animation forming some of the most impressive sequences in the entire trilogy. The fight scenes are impeccably put together, and there isn’t a single second where I was not impressed by the attention to detail in every frame of animation.

The sole criticism that I have for this movie is that the supporting cast is a bit underutilized. As in the past, the star-studded voice cast is brilliant in what little time they have to shine, but when you have Angelina Jolie (playing Tigress), Jackie Chan (as Monkey), Seth Rogan (as Mantis), Lucy Liu (as Viper), David Cross (as Crane) and Dustin Hoffman (as Master Shifu) you expect them to be used at least a little more often. The film is not very long, only clocking in at 95 minutes, and some time could easily have been added to throw in a few more of Rogan and Cross’s chemistry, or Chan’s one-liners, or giving Liu at least one line she can do something with. Even Jolie, whose character, Tigress, is used more heavily than anyone not in Po’s family or Kai, feels underutilized.This is especially sad considering how much development her character got in “2.”

Nevertheless, “Kung Fu Panda 3”is one of the best animated movies I have seen in the past few years, and anyone who has a sense of humor, is capable of having fun or has ever loved a family member will find something to like about this charming adventure. Final score: 90/100.