Release date: 11th March 2016/Watch the trailer here
There are two types of children’s films. There are those aimed exclusively at children, packed with goofy humour and the kind of annoying characters that were surely created just to torture parents (Alvin and the Chipmunks, anyone?). Then there are the children’s films that have just as much to offer to an adult audience as to a younger one; the type of films that Pixar specialises in: Inside Out and Up, to name just a couple. Kung Fu Panda 3 – surprisingly, for a second sequel that comes eight years after the franchise begun – falls, for the most part, into the latter category.
The Kung Fu Panda films are set in an ancient China populated by – like so many animated films – a host of talking animals, voiced by an all-star cast. Kung Fu Panda‘s appeal largely comes from the eponymous panda, Po, the overweight and unsuspecting ‘Dragon Warrior’, voiced by Jack Black. Kung Fu Panda 3 sees Po reunited with his long-lost father, Li (Bryan Cranston, in a role more Malcom in the Middle than Breaking Bad), while a villain from the spirit realm, Kai (J.K. Simmons), threatens to wipe China of all its kung fu masters.
Faced with this brand new threat, Po travels with his father to a secret panda village in order to learn the ancient power of ‘chi’ and, ultimately, to train a bunch of clumsy, chubby pandas – who are far better at eating dumplings than kung fu fighting – to defend their village from a power-hungry villain.
The plot, at times, is lacking – the constant talk of ‘spirit realms’ and ‘chi’ seem like little more than convenient plot devices, but this is a children’s film, after all, and what better genre than animation to explore infeasible fantasies? Plot holes aside, Kung Fu Panda 3 is at its most beautiful when it is at its most fantastical, the animation daring to stray from the conventional and exploring the art of China through wildly imaginative sequences and vivid explosions of colour, accompanied by a stunning soundtrack courtesy of Hans Zimmer.
Although Kung Fu Panda 3 may contain a bit too much of the goofy humour and silly gags synonymous with both children’s films and Jack Black, at its heart is a touching message that will resonate with adults and children alike. The film centres around the theme of finding yourself and discovering who you really are – Po, a panda raised by a goose and an unwitting warrior, struggles to come to terms with the existence of other pandas and the burden of becoming a teacher placed upon him by Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), as he questions himself, who he is, and where he belongs.
The third film in the Kung Fu Panda franchise may well be the best of the bunch. Humour, action, emotion, a fantastic voice cast and plenty of adorable baby pandas, Kung Fu Panda 3 has something for everyone. It’s never going to stand up alongside some of Pixar’s finer offerings – or even those of Kung Fu Panda‘s own Dreamworks, such as Shrek or How To Train Your Dragon – and it was never going to break new ground, but as far as ninety minutes of cuddly animated pandas and kung fu fun go – it doesn’t get much better than this.
There are talks of another three Kung Fu Panda films being made in the future. If Dreamworks are smart, they’ll know that Kung Fu Panda 3 was the delightful ending that this trilogy needed – no fourth (or fifth, or sixth) entry necessary.