Monday, February 1, 2016

Kung Fu Panda 3 Review: Third Installment Remains True to Series' Name

When we think of term of Kung Fu, what comes to mind is an iconic martial art that has seemly blended into the world of pop culture. It is hard to imagine this term being used to describe a panda; but sure enough this combination has gone together become a major film franchise. Since 2008 Kung Fu Panda has been a hit series for Dreamworks Studio. When I first heard about this film, I thought it would be just another silly animated feature. Oh how wrong I was as Kung Fu Panda was a fantastic film that blended the concepts of action and humor so well. The film and its sequel, Kung Fu Panda 2, are not just some of best films to come from Dreamworks, but they are also two of the most enlightening animated movies that this adventurer has had the opportunity to see. Now after nearly five years since the previous film was released, the animated franchise continues in Kung Fu Panda 3. Admittedly it was hard to not be excited for this addition as I was curious to see what the filmmakers would do with next chapter in the story of Po. Yet is Kung Fu Panda 3 another hit for Dreamworks, or does installment lack the discipline to carry the series' name?

Kung Fu Panda 3 continues the story of the adventurous panda: Po (Jack Black). After accomplishing so much, Po is tasked to take the next step in his training by becoming a teacher, which does not please the zealous panda. However Po gets the shock of his life when he meets Li Shan (Bryan Cranston): Po's long lost father. To discover the mystery behind chi, Po travels with his father to a secret panda village where Li Shan hopes to teach his son what it means to be a panda. However when the spirit warrior Kai (J.K. Simmons) captures the essence of all of China's kung fu masters, Po must rise to the occasion and become who he was meant to be.

The stories of the Kung Fu Panda series have been filled with adventure and strong themes; and fortunately the plot to this installment lives up to these standards. Like the previous films, Kung Panda 3's story features strong morals that are reflected in Po's journey; all the while being a engaging adventure. However where this plot falters is in the story's structure. Despite being longer than the previous movies, the pacing to this story went by too quickly leaving moments (such as the final act) feeling rushed. While the execution could have been better, the plot behind Kung Fu Panda 3 was still fitting as it brought the story of this animated franchise to a complete circle.

Much like the story, the matter of characters have been a remarkable trait for this series as the Kung Fu Panda movies have featured casts that are both colorful and delightful. It was pleasing to see that this element had not changed for the third installment as the movie featured an enriching cast. Po continued to be the charming yet complex protagonist. Po's direction in this film was an appropriate step to complete the character's story; all the while remaining true to the things that have made this panda so lovable. The supporting cast was also effective. Even with little development, the likes of Shi-fu (Dustin Hoffman) Tigris (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Monkey (Jackie Chan) and Mr Ping (James Hong) had roles that were fitting to keep these characters relevant. On the other hand, the new addition to the Kung Fu Panda ensemble felt lost in the shuffle. Characters such as Mei Mei (Kate Hudson) were likable enough, but they had little to no direction which led to an underwhelming impact on the overall film. There were two exception to this though, with the first being Li Shan. The development for Li Shan's character was a bit standard, but there were dimensions behind Po's father; and having an actor such as Bryan Cranston playing the part certainly helped. The second highlight in new characters was the villainous Kai. Kai did lack in direction but the concept behind the character, and JK Simmons' charismatic performance, gave the Kung Fu Panda series another memorable villain.

If there is another element that has worked in Kung Fu Panda's favor, it would be the animation. The animation to the series has been rich with color as well as style. The animation for Kung Fu Panda 3 was no exception to this; in fact this film may have exceeded its predecessor in this area. The movie's animation went new heights by blending an array of colors with film's sense of style. The result of this direction gave the film a defining look. The comedy to the movie lacked in impact, but it still managed to work thanks to its subtle humor like references from the first film and the interaction between the characters. The action was also a highlight to the film. This factor lived up to the franchise by creating sequences that were both detailed and fast paced. The score by Hans Zimmer was decent enough. While it may not have given the series any new tunes (with the exception of Kai's theme), the music to Kung Fu Panda 3 kept to the franchises' strengths by featuring tunes that were both enlightening and touching. When it came down to it, the technical elements to Kung Fu Panda 3 expanded upon familiar trends, but as the old saying goes: if ain't broke, don't fix it.

Kung Fu Panda 3 was not the best in its series. Certain directions and executions prevented this third installment from being a thunderous hit. However the movie stays true to franchise's stronger traits, like having an adventurous story, engaging characters and stylish animation. Kung Fu Panda 3 delivered an experience that was touching as well as fun; and in my opinion: that definitely does justice to name of Kung Fu Panda.

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