There’s not much chance that a movie with a “3” in its title will garner much attention (much less enthusiasm), particularly in the realm of kids’ movies. Sure, Iron Man 3 was pretty stellar, Josh Brolin helped make Men in Black 3 watchable, and we can’t forget the brilliant Toy Story … but beyond a handful or so, the third installment is generally when things start to peter out.
Enter Kung Fu Panda , which hits theaters almost five full years after the sequel. It may not be entirely necessary, but darned if it doesn’t join the rare air of very good three-quels.
Co-directed by Jennifer Yuh (Kung Fu Panda 2) and first-timer Alessandro Carloni, it’s about as good as you could hope for (if not better). With gorgeous art, phenomenal use of 3D, and a sweet and funny story, it more than justifies keeping the franchise alive and kicking.
Jack Black, of course, remains the center of attention as Po, the lovable, rotund panda who has grown into his status as the chosen Dragon Warrior. And the rest of his supporting cast return, too, including Angelina Jolie as Tigress and Seth Rogen as Mantis. The one thing that keeps changing in the KFP movies is, of course, the villain. This go-round we get Kai, a supernatural bull voiced with perfect verve by the expertly-cast J.K. Simmons.
The story, to be sure, gets a little needlessly convoluted at points (something about jade pendants, Chi, and the spirit realm), but at its core Kung Fu Panda follows its traditional formula– Panda meets new foe, discovers new powers, and wins the day. What helps the film rise above typical third-installment territory is how stunning it is to watch.
Yuh, aided handily by Art Director Max Boas (Rise of the Guardians), has created an incredibly gorgeous world in which Po and his pals frolic. An exquisite blend of animation, from hand-drawn cartoon to computer-generated wizardry, keeps Kung Fu Panda 3 immensely watchable.
The screenplay by the returning duo of Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger is perhaps the biggest and most welcome surprise. Stuffed with memorable moments, both tender and hilarious, it’s among the most refreshing family movie scripts in recent memory.
Indeed, the third time (along with the second and first) truly is a charm. And it certainly bodes well for the planned fourth, fifth, and sixth installments, too.