Many underestimate the power of a good children’s movie. In their simplicity, they can tell stories that cut right to the core of human nature, often leaving even adult audiences with a little something to ponder.
When we think of films that best unite this emotional depth with fun and entertainment, films like “The Lion King,” “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” or “Toy Story” come to mind.
While the third installment of the “Kung Fu Panda” franchise doesn’t quite measure up to these children’s classics, it has certainly mastered the fundamentals of great family entertainment with strong character development, gorgeous visuals and nuanced lessons of friendship, integrity and self-discovery.
“Kung Fu Panda 3” continues the tale of Po (Jack Black), the unexpected Dragon Warrior, as he moves into the next stage of his development as a teacher. In the midst of his hilarious failure to live up to the expectations of his sensei, Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), a powerful new villain arises who threatens the harmony of the world of kung fu. Only by coming to terms with who he really is can Po gain the power necessary to defeat this evil and restore balance.
While the story may seem little more than a stock convention of the genre, the presentation and attention to detail provides “Kung Fu Panda 3” with an artistic depth that still feels fresh, despite being the third film in a series about an overweight fighting panda bear.
From the gorgeous hand-drawn sequences that recall ancient Chinese watercolor to the animation of jade monsters and otherworldly battles, the art direction will enthrall children and adults alike.
Yet beneath the immediately obvious visual attraction lies a story that is genuinely hilarious and, at other times, surprising in its heartfelt moments.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to any sequel is that of remaining faithful to the characters while still allowing them to develop. “Kung Fu Panda 3” manages another surprising success in this regard.
The irony of Po’s character remains intact, for even as his power as a warrior grows, the film still offers plenty of references to his inadequacy as a hero. This only makes the panda more endearing, as he struggles to climb a flight of stairs or interrupts a meditating Master Shifu.
While his development into a hero feels a bit repetitive in light of the previous films in the series, the overarching theme of self-discovery provides something new for Po and audiences to learn and think about.
While “Kung Fu Panda 3” does not depart from the conventions placed by the previous installments, it does build upon them, delivering a solid story that accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do.
By emphasizing ever-important lessons of children’s stories, such as the notion that anyone can be a hero and the importance of friendship and family, this charming tale makes for a fun and emotional addition to the series — a surprise that is almost as big as this fat panda’s awesome victory over the forces of evil.
“Kung Fu Panda 3” is directed by Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh and features a spectacular cast of voice actors including Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogan, Lucy Liu, David Cross and newcomers Bryan Cranston, J.K. Simmons and Kate Hudson.