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.
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.