Title: Kung Fu Panda 3
Director: Jennifer Yuh, Alessandro Carloni
Major Players: The voices of Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, Dustin Hoffman, J K Simmons
Out Of Five: 3
I may have missed the announcement, but we seem to be in Sequels Season – for this month at least. We had London Has Fallen last week, Divergent:Allegiant has already arrived – part three in the series – and now it’s the turn of the cuddly kickin’ panda in a film that does what it says on the tin. Kung Fu Panda 3.
But a third instalment can be a big ask. Quite apart from the question about Hollywood’s creativity posed by all the forthcoming sequels, any film with ‘3’ tagged onto its title can’t get away with just giving us more of the same. Even if it is a popular and eminently likeable family animation.
So we find kung fu fighting panda Po (Jack Black) is now the Dragon Warrior, under the tuition of Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). He’s getting used to the status that goes with the role when his long-last father, Li (Bryan Cranston) turns up out of the blue and the two of them go on a trek to the secret panda village where Li lives. But, at the same time, supernatural villain Kai (J K Simmons) is rampaging across ancient China, stealing the chi from all the kung fu masters, with his sights set on Po himself. Now he threatens the panda village and it’s down to Po to protect it.
If that outline sounds a bit disjointed, that’s because it is and it’s where the film falls. Down. It just doesn’t fit together as a whole: some pieces do, but others most definitely don’t. The panda village, for instance, isn’t really necessary, nothing more than a device to introduce lots of more cuddly pandas in to the story and more verbal and visual jokes about eating too many dumplings and being overweight.
The fact that the story works up to a point, but no further, rather goes for the film as a whole. Don’t get me wrong: it’s enjoyable, fun and likeable. But it’s also as substantial as the flower petals that irritate Master Oogway’s (Randall Duk Kim) nose while he meditates. Some of its limitations are down to it being a family film. It has a 12A certificate, which means that the kung fu has to be toned down accordingly and the jokes don’t get any stronger than the occasional risqué mention of dumplings. The children that it’s primarily aimed at will love all the colour and the action – there’s plenty of that and in the early scenes it’s all so near-frantic you wonder how it’s going to keep it up.
The adults will appreciate the other animation, because some of the back stories are shown in a style reminiscent of traditional Chinese watercolours, complete with calligraphy down one side of the screen. And, although it’s still about the characters from the film, it’s rather nicely done. Its washed colours and gentler style make a refreshing change from the bold, almost brash animation used in the bulk of the film. Not that there’s anything wrong with it: it’s rather good in places, and still manages some subtlety and detail. That inclination to run your fingers through Po’s glossy fur is a testament to the increasingly high standards that we’ve become used to in animation. What we’d describe now as just good would have been regarded as sensational just a handful of years ago. It really is the Golden Age Of Animation.
The film jam-packed with famous voices, although you don’t necessarily recognise them straight away. Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Bryan Cranston, Seth Rogan and J K Simmons are all there, alongside the mandatory Jack Black but some of them don’t have especially distinctive voices – Jolie for one – and those that do seem to have toned themselves down for the purpose of the film. You can just about recognise J K Simmons straight off, but that’s about it. And he has an issue with his character to contend with. Kai is the villain of the piece and he’s meant to be extremely powerful and nasty, but he doesn’t make the grade on either front. There’s a running gag about nobody knowing who he is – everybody knows his former friend, Oogway, which gets right up his sizeable nostrils – and, while it’s amusing, it also weakens him.
There’s no indication at the end of the film that there’s more to come from Po, so you could be forgiven for thinking this might be the last in the series. It seems a good place to stop – but Dreamworks has other ideas. Word is there’s another three to come, although no dates have been officially announced. Given that the first one was in 2008 and the second in 2011, we could have something of a wait.
It’s good holiday fodder, though – amusing, pleasant, with enough for both children and adults alike to keep them entertained in an undemanding way. But is there really enough for another three episodes? On this showing, I’m not convinced.
Kung Fu Panda 3 is in cinemas now and was reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 10 March.