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Kung Pow!—Kung Fu Panda 3

Add Kung Fu Panda to the short list of films that have validated a third trip to the well. This stylish, enjoyable feature doesn’t require one to have seen parts 1 and 2 but manages to hold its own as an extension of the original story. That requires our lovable hero Po (the irresistibly likable Jack Black) to be put to yet another test of both martial arts and, even more important, inner strength. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that he succeeds in a highly satisfying way.

To their great credit, the filmmakers have found an ingenious way to combine heart-tugging sentiment, humor, and action in equal measure. The unexpected arrival of Po’s panda father (Bryan Cranston) opens a new world to him—including the prospect of meeting other pandas for the first time in his life—but threatens to leave the excitable goose who has raised him out in the cold.

An even greater threat is posed by a power-crazed figure from the spirit world named Kai (voiced by the versatile J.K. Simmons) who has stolen the chi from countless Kung Fu masters. He has set his sights on the one remaining adversary who stands in his way: the Dragon Master, better known to us as Po.

J.K. Simmons-Kung Fu Panda 3-680-2A

Courtesy of DreamWorks Animation

Under the direction of Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni, Kung Fu Panda 3 is an uncommonly beautiful movie—all the more so in 3-D. Production designer Raymond Zibach and his team have created striking and often stunning landscapes, while the directors and visual effects crew have upped their game with an array of visual flourishes. And, as in the first Panda feature, one sequence is animated in 2-D with high-contrast lighting, to great effect.

The screenplay, credited to Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, avoids contrivance as it lays new challenges in our hero’s path and manages to leaven even the most emotional passages with humor. Hans Zimmer’s robust score supports every story beat and nuance.

The credits for Kung Fu Panda 3 reveal the enormous global team that collaborated on this picture. I can scarcely imagine the logistics of leading such a geographically diverse army of artists and technicians…but it was clearly worth the effort. Kung Fu Panda 3 is terrific.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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