KUNG FU PANDA 3 (Fox)
Dir. Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Alessandro Carmoni, Script. Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
Cast (voices): Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, J.K. Simmons, James Hong, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Bryan Cranston, Kate Hudson
Plot: When an evil spirit returns from the dead to capture the life-force of the world’s kung fu masters, it falls on Dragon Warrior Po (Black) to save kung fu.
For an animated franchise, the Kung Fu Panda series has always been incredibly assured of itself – while it doesn’t stand as one of the great franchises by any means, it first two instalments were both very effective films. And with this third instalment, produced in tandem with the Chinese film industry (the first film to be developed in both countries simultaneously), the franchise continues to deliver family thrills, spectacular animation, and a surprisingly good story to boot.
To start off, Kung Fu Panda 3 is visually stunning, maybe the most beautiful animation that DreamWorks has ever created: its straight out of the Hong Kong film industry, Ashes Of Time on steroids – the cinematography (I know its an animated film, but the visual attention to detail merits it) is remarkably well thought out, and the editing is also whip-smart and quick as anything. Kung Fu Panda 3 has a great pace, the story beats all feel like they’re in the right place, and overall the entire film flows seamlessly. It’s very easy to notice the Chinese influences in the visual style, and co-directors Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carmoni have done a fantastic job of cherry picking some of the best features of Asian cinema, and meshing them together with Western sensibilities.
That brilliant pace is down to a taut screenplay and narrative, that actually packs quite a lot of story in to its 95 minute run-time (which, considering the film’s $145m budget, makes you think just how expensive this would have been if given the Marvel 2-and-a-bit hours treatment). The story mainly revolves around the concept of ‘chi’ (think the Force), and while this allows the animators to go even more crazy with the visuals, it actually provides a really good story arc for Jack Black’s loveable panda (played with typical verve by Mr. Black). I’m giving this film a serious compliment when I say that it reminded me a times of the original Star Wars trilogy, and in a lot of ways.
And just when you think the treasure trove’s been plundered, you realise that what was already a top=notch voice cast has been added to with other top names: J.K. Simmons (comfortable) voices this instalments villain, who feels betrayed and seeks revenge through stealing the world’s chi (while not the best motive, its a believable one), but doesn’t feel quite fleshed out enough. The Furious Five all return, but are mainly pushed to the wayside in this film, which instead chooses to focus on Po’s relationship with his recently returned father (played by Bryan Cranston, who’s okay but no Walter White). Overall, only few members of the cast really have prominent roles this time round, and while I support this as it does make the narrative feel more refined, its a little bit of a shame to see some talented actors pushed to the periphery.
However, with the exception of the exquisite animation, nothing really strikes me as being massively special: for a family film, its deeper than you might expect, but the whole thing still feels a little too twee to be considered top-notch. It definitely prefers to stay on the lighter side of things, and it occasionally doubles back on itself when it can take the leap to more interesting territory, instead adhering to formula. But I feel like its commendable that a PG, light-hearted bit of family entertainment has enough strong points to make me think if its worthy of being considered a top-notch film, let alone an animation. To be honest, Kung Fu Panda 3 is devoid of any major fault, and does what a film of this type should always do: provides entertainment for the young, and has enough substance for the people paying for them.