Kung Fu Panda 3 is a perfectly pleasant movie. It's nice to see these characters back on the big screen, Po is still one of my favorite animated creations and I adore the attention to detail in this beautiful universe that the filmmakers have created. And as a finale to this trilogy of films, it is an incredibly satisfying, bittersweet experience, especially as someone who has been around for this franchise since the beginning. Unfortunately, the film itself is very slight and minor- it's undoubtedly entertaining, but the film ends up feeling just a bit undercooked. A weak villain, light plot development and some emotional beats that just don't hit add up to a film that works until it doesn't. If you're a fan of this franchise and these characters, you'll have a good time. Anyone else will probably walk away indifferent.
A few years have passed since Po (Jack Black) first became the dragon warrior, but he's still in the midst of training. He's fighting with the Furious Five (Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Lucy Liu, and Jackie Chan) and stopping bad guys, all while still eating plenty of food. However, a new task awaits him. Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) announces to Po that he will be retiring soon, and that it is Po's new responsibility to train the Furious Five. He's completely skeptical and the first training experiments go very poorly. Po is discouraged and believes that he'll never be able to be as good of a master as Shifu.
I think it's tough to judge Kung Fu Panda 3 as a singular film, and not as a conclusion to a full trilogy of films. On one hand, this third chapter completes several character arcs that its predecessor left open. Po's origin has been told, his rags-to-riches tale is complete and his ascension into Kung Fu history has been chronicled. Without this film, we don't get the satisfaction of seeing all of this play out. I love the way that Kung Fu Panda 3 reunites Po with his family and completes his destiny. The films may not be able to match up, but I have such a deep respect for how these filmmakers handle the characters. Jack Black voices Po with such humor and warmth, and the script by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger knows these characters so thoroughly well.
And yet, it's fun. Kung Fu Panda 3 is literally impossible to dislike. Even as I watched it and picked apart all of the trivial details that I wasn't a fan of, I laughed and had a good time. It's a very funny film and it was a sheer blast to see what basically amounted to an entire village of fat, hungry panda bears on screen. It's not as endlessly delightful as the original film, but this is a vastly more breezy and enjoyable film than Kung Fu Panda 2. If you don't expect anything too deep or meaningful, it ends up being a solid ride.
Kung Fu Panda 3 won't leave any lasting impact on the world of cinema and it's far from a great animated film, but it completes this franchise with grace and heart. And to be honest, I really couldn't have asked for more. Kung Fu Panda is a critical piece of my childhood and my film history, and after the disappointment of the sequel, the way that this threequel capped it off was sweet and captivating. Po's story has ended and there's literally nowhere to go from here. There's something inherently sad about that, but at the same time, I wouldn't have it any other way.
THE FINAL GRADE: B- (6.9/10)
Image Credits: Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Joblo