'Kung Fu Panda 3': Film Review

Refuses to panda to the lowest common denominator.

Jack Black, Angelina Jolie and Dustin Hoffman make an audience-pleasing return to the hit animated franchise.

Back on the big-screen scene after an almost five-year hiatus (not counting the spinoff TV series), Po and the Furious Five still have all the right moves on display in Kung Fu Panda 3, a generally pleasing, terrific-looking entry in the Oscar-nominated franchise.

While the storyline, in which Jack Black’s dumpling-downing Dragon Warrior is reunited with his biological father, doesn’t quite fulfill its prophecies, dramatically speaking, visually speaking it’s all quite impressive — one of those very rare animated features that completely justifies its 3D glasses.

Expect the DreamWorks Animation production (released by 20th Century Fox) to again kick up some strong business both domestically and internationally, particularly in China, where a concurrently produced Mandarin version will be released, with speech animation that accommodates the different nuances of Asian voice actors.

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The new adventure finds Po expected to fill the shoes of his beloved instructor Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), teaching the finer aspects of kung fu to Tigress (Angelina Jolie Pitt), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Crane (David Cross) and Viper (Lucy Liu), with less-than-promising results.

Interrupting his new quest is the surprise arrival of Li (Bryan Cranston), his bigger-than-life long-lost dad, and their subsequent intense bonding doesn’t exactly sit well with adoptive dad Mr. Ping (again played by a scene-stealing James Hong).

But the reunion is cut short with the appearance of the villainous Kai (J.K. Simmons), who has emerged from the spirit world intent on stealing the powers of all Kung Fu masters, unless Po can figure out a way to stop him.

Again maintaining a nice balance of action and character-driven humor is returning KFP2 director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, sharing helming credits here with Alessandro Carloni; screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger make it a three-peat, delivering a script that remains true to the likeable characters even if the “it-takes-a-village” message falls short of hitting the requisite emotional chords.

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Most definitely delivering the goods are Black and his fellow gifted voice cast, as well as production designer Raymond Zibach and visual effects supervisor Mark Edwards, whose tasteful touches with light and shadow and gently swirling, luminescent color really put those clunky glasses to work for change.

Production companies: DreamWorks Animation SKG, China Film Co., Oriental DreamWorks, Zhong Ming You Ying Film
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Cast: Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie Pitt, J.K. Simmons, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Kate Hudson, James Hong
Directors: Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Alessandro Carloni
Screenwriters: Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger
Producer: Melissa Cobb
Executive producers: Mike Mitchell, Guillermo del Toro, La Peikang, Li Ruigang
Production designer: Raymond Zibach

Editor: Clare Knight
Music: Hans Zimmer

Rated PG, 94 minutes