Po Versus The Spirit World: Kung Fu Panda 3
Years ago, a panda named Po learned he had a special skill in the martial arts. As he came to grow in knowledge about the martial art, he has had to learn the responsibility associated with it. In the animated feature Kung Fu Panda 3, Po (Jack Black), who has now become a dragon warrior, gets a new task from Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). Po is to teach the other masters in the disciplines Shifu has done for so long. Instead, he winds up running the class in a haphazard fashion, and the Furious Five suffer minor injuries during Po's teaching disaster. Meanwhile, a visitor named Li Shan (Bryan Cranston) arrives in the village, where he makes an impression on the patrons at the restaurant owned by Po's adoptive father, Mr. Ping (James Hong). Li soon reveals himself to be Po's actual father, who had lost contact with his son when battle separated them. When Li meets Po, they form an instant bond that makes Ping jealous.
Meanwhile, Po and his allies face bigger challenges. Kai (J. K. Simmons), a warrior who was once an ally of Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), has re-entered the mortal world by stealing the chi of Oogway. Once on earth, Kai steals the chi of other masters, making them soldiers under the command of Kai. This comes at a time when a disillusioned Po, at Li's urging, decides to head to his father's village and meet the other pandas there, including a panda about Po's age named Mei Mei (Kate Hudson). Shifu sends Crane (David Cross) and Mantis (Seth Rogen) to follow, only to lose their chi and suffer the fate of the other masters. Kai then heads to the Jade Palace and does the same to Shifu, Viper (Lucy Liu), and Monkey (Jackie Chan). Only Tigress (Angelina Jolie) escapes from Kai and rushes to the village where Po has gone. The dragon warrior and the sole remaining master have a tall task ahead of them, as the pandas don't seem battle ready or able to solve the issue of battling a being from the spirit world.
The Kung Fu Panda series has offered a little something different with each film. Clearly, Po takes his learning seriously, but he stands out because he has a more lighthearted approach to the martial arts. Kung Fu Panda 3 provides a look at why the dragon warrior behaves the way he does. While he has not bonded with other pandas in Ping's village, Po finds himself surrounded by creatures who enjoy good food and good times. While Li Shan's village has known battle, they would rather appreciate the goodness the world has to offer. The key players behind the scenes of Kung Fu Panda 3 have worked in some capacity in the entire series. Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who had sole director credit on Kung Fu Panda 2, directs again with help from Alessandro Carloni, who, like Nelson, moved up from animation duties. Glenn Berger and Jonathan Aibel return for their third screenplay collaboration, where they take viewers through both the kung fu and personal training of Po, as the panda has to learn that every person has their own way of development and defense. The end result is a predictable, but consistent, look at the martial arts and the bonds that otherwise form.
Black remains as enjoyable as ever as Po. His growth in kung fu takes turns he doesn't expect as he takes on new responsibilities. He'd relied on Shifu to take the lead, only to have Shifu hand the reins over to him. From disaster, Po learns that every practitioner of kung fu needs to train according to their own skill set. When Li Shan comes to the village, he learns more about the panda in him. Black adds his familiar "Skidoosh" to show that Po ultimately enjoys the challenges. Hoffman, Hong, and the Furious Five have limited work here, but they remain solid in support of a colleague and adopted son. Cranston adds a fun twist as Li Shan, a dad longing for his son, and reconnecting in ways that make Ping jealous. Simmons makes a fine adversary as Kai, a creature who once cared for Oogway, only to eternally envy him. TV personalities Al Roker and Willie Geist give voice to members the panda clan that includes Li Shan, as do four of Jolie's children.
The Kung Fu Panda series has been a very good one because the team behind the scenes have brought new elements that mesh well with the familiar characters. I suppose if DreamWorks could make all the financial arrangements and secure artist interest, they could make Kung Fu Panda 4. Kung Fu Panda 3, though, completes an animated trilogy bested only by the Toy Story movies. Once again, Po learns about his ability while learning more about those around him. He learns that he is at his best when he and everybody around him are themselves.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Kung Fu Panda 3 3.5 stars. Everybody is kung fu fighting again.