Often by the time an animated movie is on to its second sequel the film is quietly (and for the most part with good reason) relegated to a ‘straight to DVD’ release. Luckily for the fans of large, daft but good-hearted pandas the latest adventures of Po and the Kung Fu Panda gang are worthy of the price of a movie ticket.
Taking place sometime after the events of the first two films, Master Shifu has retired and handed on the role of teacher to Po. This proves a struggle for Po, and results in the members of the furious five all being injured. As Po continues to try and develop his teaching skills his world is turned upside down by the introduction of his biological father and the frightening appearance of the spirit warrior and collector, Kai (the new villain for the franchise). All these aspects come together to lead Po on a journey of self-discovery at the Secret Village, inhabited by generations of Pandas all like Po.
The original cast are joined by Bryan Cranston, J.K. Simmons and Kate Hudson as well as the children of cast members Angelina Jolie and Jack Black who are given an opportunity to try their hand at voice-over work. The musical score is provided by the talented Hans Zimmer and continuity from film 2 is assisted by the return of director Jennifer Yuh Nelson and screenplay writers Jonathan Aibel and Glen Berger.
Compared to the 2008 original the storyline seems darker at times, and includes delving into Po’s backstory that goes far beyond a bumbling panda helping his Dad out in the local restaurant. Happily there is plenty of balance with light-hearted, cute moments that reflect why we all fell in love with Kung Fu Panda in the first place, and of course there is the battle between good and evil that coincides with Po trying to develop the skills required to be a great master/teacher.
Perhaps more importantly, this is a story of Po learning and accepting himself for who he is, complete with flaws (sleeping until noon, eating his own body weight in dumplings) that are typical of pandas and therefore aspects that he must try to embrace rather than seeing as his failings. The story also looks at the loving bond between adopted parents and children, with the devoted Mr Ping acting as a squawking defender of interspecies adoption.
The animation is beautiful, and retains from the first two films the Asian inspired designs. However, after three films it does feel like this has lost a little of the ‘wow factor’ that had viewers gasping in admiration of the craftsmanship the first two times. Still, if this is one of the few faults then the movie is still a wonderful viewing experience.
So perhaps not such a light-hearted film, but certainly a worthy continuation of Po’s story, and a ‘must’ for any fan of the Kung Fu Panda Dragon Master.