Kung Fu Panda 3 begins with Po no longer a clumsy apprentice, but a formidable warrior in search of his true self.
A villain named Kai defeats Master Oogway in the Spirit Realm and turns him into a jade charm. From Oogway, Kai also learns of the Dragon Warrior and is determined to defeat Po too. In the actual world, Po meets his biological father, Li Shan, and bonds with him, much to the jealousy of Mr. Ping, Po’s adoptive father. After the valley is attacked by jade zombies, Po realises the danger posed by Kai and that he must master the secret art of Chi in order to defeat Kai. To do so, he travels with Li Shan to a hidden village of pandas. Years ago, it was pandas who imparted the art of Chi to Oogway and Kai.
I firmly believe that sequels are the hardest movies to make. Where do you find the balance? How much of the original do you rehash without getting dreary? How many new developments do you add without compromising the original? In a rare example, Kung Fu Panda 2 not only found the right formula, it was able to exceed the original. In that episode, we encounter a maturing Po. There was also substantial and progressive development in key supporting characters. I remember watching part 2 and thinking, wow, they got this one right. I felt it deserved an Oscar.
The same formula is applied to Kung Fu Panda 3. Yet somehow, it no longer appeals as much. Perhaps it’s the incessant lazy panda jokes, which are no longer charming or even believable, given Po is very much the equal of Shifu and the Furious Five. Or maybe it’s the bland antagonist, who has no other ambition except to conquer the kung fu world. Overall, Kung Fu Panda 3 feels to me to be little more than an extended story arc of a spinoff animated series. You know, those story lines that last four episodes instead of twenty minutes, and entirely for the purpose of filling up the season. Not to say this is not enjoyable. There are still laughs. But it’s just not memorable. It certainly also discourages my support for a part 4.
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