The bumbling dragon warrior Po is back and he has got his biological father Li (Bryan Cranston), his adopted father, the furious five and a village of pandas with him. Visually thrilling and filled with heart, this third film in the Kung Fu Panda franchise is as endearing as its rotund hero.
What was my first reaction after watching Kung Fu Panda 3 with its A-list voice cast (Angelina Jolie, Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, JK Simmons, Dustin Hoffman blah blah), visual splendour, stunning 3D effects and the bumbling world saviour Po? That I wanted dumplings, and noodles, and soup. But mostly dumplings.
For those who came in late, Kung Fu Panda 3 is the third coming of Po, a food-loving panda who is destined to become the dragon warrior but simply can’t believe it. No sir, three films down and he is still to come to terms with it. This is his charm and his impediment – others have seen his greatness but he wants to stick to what he can do rather than what he is capable of. A little bit like all of us, and telling us that we can own the world only if we could be bothered to strive and believe.
In this profound moral lesson for kids and parents alike, where do dumplings figure? You heard us mention Po loves his food but his relationship with dumplings is on a much deeper level – he uses them as training incentive and ammunition. His adopted dad, the goose Mr Ping (James Hong), uses them as filial reinforcers and his biological father, Li (Bryan Cranston), teaches him that a panda never uses chopsticks while eating dumplings.For why eat one dumpling with chopsticks when you can shovel down four with your paws?
I challenge you not to crave food when you are bombarded by so many pretty visuals of the same. I could not, I caved.
Now that we have got the confession out of the way, here’s taking a stab at Kung Fu Panda’s plot. Po is happy living with his adopted father and training with master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and the furious five – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross). But like always, the world needs saving. This time the threat comes from a yak from the spirit world, Kai (JK Simmons, having done terrorising Milles Teller in Whiplash, he is up to no good in China).
Kai has got hold of Chi or life force of all the kung fu masters in the spirit world and now uses them as ugly jade zombie warriors. Po, in his camp, has got his newfound real dad Li (a beautifully understated Bryan Cranston), a village full of cute, cuddly pandas and a bucketful of self doubt. Forget about learning the power of Chi and saving world, Po is not even sure if he is a real panda!
This journey of self awareness for Po, his two fathers and even for Shifu is rendered in glorious colour which takes your breath away. The panda village, especially, is a thing of beauty. Its dulcet sunset, its psychedelic burst of colour and its inhabitants will be etched in your memory. Even the spirit world’s yellow-going-on-gold tones are delightfully done. In terms of CGI, Kung Fu Panda 3 is probably the best in the franchise and 3D just adds to the effect. Especially watch out for scenes with split screens.
The film also offers the gentle humour that we have come to associate with the franchise. Jack Black plays the bumbling Po to the hilt and the new pandas just add to the madness. Li is a lot like Po, only older. Then there is Mei Mei, the ribbon-dancing panda who is brought in as prospective love interest for Po and then forgotten. They are probably saving her for Kung Fu Panda 4.
The film offers entertainment for children while being substantive enough to keep the parents engaged. What it is not, is fresh. It offers everything we have come to expect from the franchise without breaking any new ground. The sense of wonder that we associated with the first two films is missing this time round. And that is disappointing coming from a film whose tagline is, “Be the best you can.”
For those who are asking, this film doesn’t live up to the high standards set by the first two parts but still manages to stay endearing and fun, like a giant panda hug. Go for it and take your parents along!