Starring: Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, J.K. Simmons
Directed by: Jennifer Yuh (“Kung Fu Panda 2”) and Alessandro Carloni (debut)
Written by: Jonathan Aibel (“Kung Fu Panda 2”) and Glenn Berger (“Kung Fun Panda 2”)
How do you make the third installment of an animated panda bear series even more adorable than the first two movies? Add a handful of fat baby pandas to the mix and give them plenty of dumplings to devour. Such is the case with “Kung Fu Panda 3” as hero panda Po (Jack Black) teams up once again with the Furious Five – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross) – to defeat an evil villain set to run amok across China.
While the aforementioned cast does another fantastic job with their voice work, specifically Black as the clumsy leader whose on the job training as the Dragon Warrior is working out pretty well, it’s the new talent brought onto this sequel that really makes it memorable. This includes recent Oscar-nominated actor Bryan Cranston (“Trumbo”) as Li, Po’s long lost biological father who finds Po and returns him to his panda roots, and Oscar winner J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”) as Kai, a villainous bull set on stealing the life force (“chi”) of anyone who gets in his way. Also, keep your eye out for the scene-stealing and hilarious Mei Mei (Kate Hudson), a female ribbon dancing panda bear who takes quite a liking to a less-than-interested Po.
The narrative is warm and light enough in “Kung Fu Panda 3,” although much of the story isn’t what anyone would really consider original. What still stands out, however, is the incredible animation DreamWorks has been able to create with this franchise. The world of “Kung Fu Panda” is even more visually striking than it was when the original film hit theaters in 2008. The animation studio’s perfect combination of computer generated and 2-D work is brilliant and each character, old and new, feels fresh and exceptionally vibrant. Some of the most impressive animated scenes, much like in the last two movies, take place when animators slow down the action right in the middle of a fast-paced fight sequence so audiences can see the finer points of the battle – the splintering of a wooden pole that just got punched or someone getting a roundhouse kick to the jaw.
An overall comparison between “Kung Fun Panda 3” and its predecessors would leave this recent animated movie lagging behind in storytelling, although the father/son messaging is pleasant enough, but there’s no denying DreamWorks is making a stand against powerhouses like Pixar and Disney. Just as long as they can stop producing schlock like last year’s ill conceived “Home,” DreamWorks will still be in the conversation when the big players are mentioned.