Arriving nearly five years after the last instalment, “Kung Fu Panda 3” may not be part of the fastest moving animated franchise but it’s still one of the best. Like its predecessor, it again manages to blend kung fu movie tropes and winning animation to deliver not only a great family-orientated action adventure but a pretty good martial arts movie in its own right.
Having mastered inner peace and defeated Lord Shen, Po is once again living his dream as the Dragon Warrior, defending the valley with the help of the Furious Five. However, just as Master Shifu informs Po that he must now become the Furious Five’s teacher, an ancient enemy finds a way to return from the spirit realm, intent on wreaking a terrible revenge against Grand Master Oogway’s Jade Palace.
This third chapter in the saga delves much more into the mythological and spiritual sides of kung fu lore, which allows for a welcome return from Randall Duk Kim’s wise and playful Oogway, at least in everlasting Force-ghost style. The perfectly cast main players are all back but this time around, the Furious Five have much less to do, with only Angelina Jolie’s Tigress getting more than a token few lines. Instead, it focusses on Po’s reconnection with his biological father Li Shan (Bryan Cranston) and the villainous Kai (J K Simmons) who intends to gain mastery over both the mortal and spirit realms by harvesting Chi.
Although it’s not quite a tight as the middle chapter (a few running gags fail to get going), “Kung Fu Panda 3” is one of the strongest trilogy closers you’ll ever see in cinema. Picking up and completing threads reaching all the way back to the first film while giving Po a classic journey from student to warrior to master, it packs a warm and fuzzy emotional punch alongside all the chopsocky action and is all the richer for it. As perfect a closure as it is, it leaves me really conflicted. Part of me doesn’t want another “Kung Fu Panda” movie because the story is so well rounded as it stands now but another part of me says bring on “Kung Fu Panda 4” because they are, as Po would no doubt say, ‘awesome’. Given DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg has previously hinted at a second trilogy, I’ll just have to keep my fingers crossed that they’ll be able to keep up this level of quality.