Among DreamWorks Animation’s original franchises, the Kung Fu Panda series has stood out with its combination of witty scripts, dazzling animation and talented roster of voice actors. With series writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger claiming that they have a total of six films in mind for the series, though, it’s important for the series to avoid offering retreads of what they’ve shown before. Fortunately, Kung Fu Panda 3 is a solid continuation of the series that should delight fans of the series.
In the spirit world, ancient kung fu master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) is forced to battle Kai (J.K. Simmons), a former student whom he defeated 500 years earlier. Since then, Kai has managed to capture the ch’i of every other master in the spirit realm inside jade amulets, which he can then use against his enemies. After managing to capture Oogway, Kai leaves the spirit world to use his powers for evil in the world of our heroes.
In that world, master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) announces to Po (Jack Black) and the Furious Five (Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, David Cross) that he has taught them everything he can. With that, Po has to become an instructor of kung fu. He barely has time to recover from his bad first attempt, though, when his father Li (Bryan Cranston) suddenly appears. And then, Kai makes his presence known. In order to defeat Kai, Po has to become a master of ch’i, a practice that is native to other pandas. So Po follows Li back to a hidden village entirely populated by pandas. There, not only will Po discover his destiny by finally connecting with other pandas, but he’ll learn how to teach kung fu.
Kung Fu Panda 3 moves along at a brisk clip, building on the character development of the previous films for most of the returning characters and giving room for Po and the film’s new characters to breathe. The story is punctuated by quips from Black, Rogen and Cross primarily, with the other actors also contributing to the fun-filled vibe of the film.
More importantly, the film builds on the story of the previous films. It’s noteworthy that the Furious Five have significantly less of a presence here, with only Tigress (Jolie) getting a decent amount of screen time. In lieu of this, there’s more attention paid to Po and his growing abilities. It’s a natural progression for the character, and it hints at where further films in the series could go, even though this could also serve as a strong end for the series.