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Suzanne Buchholz, Reporter
Since its release in 2008, Kung Fu Panda has been a hit for young and old audiences. Fans of the franchise might be wondering if the third movie can possibly match the quality of the first two films, as many animated film trilogies have fallen flat over time with a few exceptions. Happily, Kung Fu Panda 3 has managed to meet, and even exceed, this reporter’s expectations.
The movie takes place following the events of Kung Fu Panda 2. Po (Jack Black), a portly panda who also happens to be the ultimate fanboy of all things kung fu, is still working on becoming the Dragon Warrior among the legendary kung fu group known as the Furious Five. But Po is thrown for a loop when he is unexpectedly reunited with his long-lost birth father, Li Shan (Bryan Cranston), an event that doesn’t sit well with Po’s adoptive father Mr. Ping (James Hong).
As intriguing as the family drama is, however, it wouldn’t be a true Kung Fu Panda movie without a menacing villain threatening to take over China. This movie delivers by introducing Po’s most powerful rival yet. An immortal and dangerous spirit warrior named Kai (J.K. Simmons) has risen from the Chinese Spirit Realm on a quest to rob all of the kung fu warriors of their chi, a special energy with healing properties that few people possess. His grand (if not typical for an animated movie villain) plan is to use the power of the chi to restore his reign over China as the supreme general.
Po discovers that in order to defeat Kai he must master the power of chi himself, a goal that Li Shan promises he can fulfill if Po will return to the secret panda village where he was born to train with him. Po accepts, and what follows is a journey of self-discovery as Po learns how to live among other pandas for the first time in his life, as well as how to find the strength within himself to take down Kai.
Unlike the previous two films, Kung Fu Panda 3 isn’t rife with the typical “believe in yourself” tropes. While it isn’t entirely free of cliches-such as Po having to find faith in himself to lead the Furious Five to victory – the final fight sequence is almost entirely free of this cliche and without explaining anything that would reveal a major spoiler, it certainly makes for a satisfying and epic battle.
Just as engaging as the plot is the animation. The action in the fight scenes is highlighted by amazing CGI effects that make their movements look fluid and lifelike, or as much so as one can get when it’s a panda putting the beat-down on his enemies. Throughout the movie, there are also scenes animated in a style reminiscent of Chinese watercolor painting, usually used to illustrate an event from the past or a dream sequence. The artwork in these scenes are particularly mesmerizing and adds to the overall Asian influence that the film tries to depict.
The film’s musical score, composed by Hans Zimmer, further added to the feeling of excitement. Most of the score had a Chinese-style sound to it that helped build the atmosphere of the movie, combined with the stunning visuals in the background. And of course, the score wouldn’t be complete without Carl Douglas’s Kung Fu Fighting playing at some point, and the remix made for this film is just as catchy as the original.
One problem with the film was that, for the most part, the majority of the Furious Five remained seen but not heard, much like in the previous two movies. It would’ve been nice if there was a little more development on their part, and that they’d be in action more often. But with the exception of an ill-fated fight scene involving Master Crane (David Cross) and Master Mantis (Seth Rogen), the rest of the Furious Five had very little screen time. This has always been a downside of the franchise-some background information on these characters would give the story a richer plot, but the focus always remains on Po, Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and occasionally Master Tigress (Angelina Jolie). This is only a minor complaint, as the movie plot more than compensates for their absence.
Kung Fu Panda 3 is just as good if not more so than the first two movies in the trilogy. It’s packed with action, a little sentimentality and an all-star voice cast. Fans of the franchise shouldn’t be disappointed with this installment. [/responsivevoice]
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