Kung Fu Panda 3 provides
a welcome reminder of what the talented artists at DreamWorks can do when
they’re given worthwhile material.
The Kung Fu Panda
movies rank among best and best-looking films the studio has produced. The
original Panda was arguably their most
satisfying feature until the How to Train
Your Dragon films appeared. Panda 2
felt like a bit of a place holder/set-up for #3, but was still funny and beautifully designed. With its strong
story, broad humor and striking visuals, Kung
Fu Panda 3 brings Po’s saga to a satisfying conclusion.
Having attained an unprecedented mastery of martial arts as
the Dragon Warrior he was destined to become, Po (voice by Jack Black) faces a
new challenge. Now that his enemies have been defeated, he needs to transition from
warrior to Sifu, or Kung Fu teacher—a
role he’s ill-suited for. His first attempt to train his friends Tigress,
Monkey, Mantis, Crane and Viper (a.k.a. the Furious Five) results in a
Po confesses to Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) that although he’s
now the Dragon Warrior, he doesn’t really know what that means or who he really
is. His identity crisis is complicated by the arrival of Li Shan (Bryan
Cranston), the panda who’s his biological father. Mr. Ping (James Hong), the
duck who adopted Po, isn’t happy about the appearance of a rival parent. When
Po agrees to go with his new dad to the hidden Panda Village, Mr. Ping tags
along—just to make sure his son is properly fed.
Po loves the slothful fun of the Panda Village: no one
bothers to walk down a hill when they can roll and the only challenges are who
can eat the most dumplings and sleep the latest. But a new threat arises: The
water buffalo-like Kai (J.K. Simmons), a former comrade of ancient master Oogway
(Randall Duk Kim), has escaped from his prison in the spirit realm and plans to
wreack vengence on the real world. He outfights every warrior he encounters,
steals their chi (life energy) and
Kai can only be beaten by a foe who commands a mastery of chi—a skill that’s supposed to be an
inborn talent in pandas. But after Kai defeats the Furious Five and Master
Shifu to menace the Panda Village, Li Shan confesses no panda knows how to
manipulate chi now—or if they ever did. Assuming the role of instructor he once
eschewed, Po trains the pandas to fight against Kai.
The fate of everyone and everything he holds dear ultimately
rests in Po’s paws, and he must find a way to defeat Kai using his special
skills. To no one’s surprise, Po beats Kai, just as no one was surprised when
Goku beat the resurrected Frieza in the recent Dragon Ball Z movie. The fun comes from seeing how the hero defeats
his enemy, and directors Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh play the sequence
for all its worth.
Kung Fu Panda 3 may
well be the most handsome film DreamWorks has produced. The artists use the designs
and animation together in visually imaginative ways. When the characters execute
the martial arts kata, their gestures
suggest the brush strokes in the related Chinese characters. The directors use
split-screen and camera movements to compliment the animation and the lovely backgrounds
that echo Chinese paintings.
At end of the film, Po finally understands who he is and
where his true talents lie. Let’s hope the same is true for the DreamWorks
artists, and that their upcoming features maintain this level of quality. For
now, Kung Fu Panda 3 looks like the
hit DreamWorks has been seeking.