Set in panda heaven (also known as the lucrative Chinese market), the third installment of the adventures of the Dragon Warrior is a lot like the second: it has a noodle-slim storyline, several hilarious sight gags and zingers, pretty visuals, inventive action and at least one scene-stealing goose.
In Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011), the portly panda Po (voiced by Jack Black) solved the mystery of his parentage, much to the chagrin of his possessive adoptive father, the goose Ping (voiced by James Hong). In the new film, Po’s father Li Shan (voiced by Bryan Cranston) shows up to re-introduce his son to his own kind. Po hasn’t had much to do since he proved his chosen one status in the first and best movie and reaffirmed his powers in the second part by defeating the evil Shen.
In the theme park-like village filled with more cuddly creatures than in a gift shop, Po feels at home, but not for too long. The green-eyed yak Kai (voiced by JK Simmons) is on his way, having stolen the supreme master Oogway’s chi and bent on sucking out the life force of all the remaining kung fu masters.
Part three gives a wider canvas to one of the best characters in the franchise, the high-strung and business-oriented Mr Ping, who reacts with horror when Li Shan arrives to assert his parentage. Ping challenges Li’s claims: “How can we know this stranger is even related to you?” he demands to know. The belly bumping that follows is typical of the tongue-in-cheek tone of the whole movie. Aimed at family audiences, especially children, Kung Fu Panda 3 has more pratfall-based and manic comedy than before, perhaps to compensate for the scanty story. The colour palette is straight out of a candy store, with licorice green the dominant shade.
On firm ground
Kung Fu Panda 3, which has been directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Alessandro Carloni, proves that when the foundation is strong, even a flimsy structure will appear solid. The personalities of the basic characters, including the wise Oogway (voiced by Randall Duk Kim), the worrywart Master Shifu (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) and the cautious Master Tigress (voiced by Angelina Jolie), were laid out in the first part, as was the lovable buffoonery of Po, who is brilliantly brought to life by Jack Black. Their collective antics are now beginning to appear repetitive and predictable, and the emotion-heavy family angle suggests that Po will be forced to grow up a bit and take on a new role in the inevitable sequel.
So long as the movie firmly believes in its own suggestion to “Never underestimate the power of a dramatic entrance”, Po and his posse will rule. But the familiar spectre of franchise fatigue has entered the picture, and there is nothing that even the Dragon Warrior can do about it.