By Jack Dignan
The first Kung Fu Panda movie, released back in 2008, was a better film than I expected it to be. In fact, I loved it. I adored it. It was a fun and entertaining movie with the always likeable Jack Black in the lead role, and if your film has Jack Black, that's never a bad thing. His cameo in Sex Tape is the only good thing about that movie. Then, in 2011, Kung Fu Panda 2 came out, and again, it was a really, really good animation. Is it as good as the first? Yes. Is it better? I'm not sure. There are parts of me that want to say yes, and parts of me that want to say no. But what I can say with complete honesty is that Kung Fu Panda 3, the film that FINALLY got released here in Australia, is the best film in the trilogy.
In Kung Fu Panda 2's final moments, we were given our first look at Po's (Jack Black) father, now played by Bryan Cranston, who gave us the line "my son is alive," setting up the third film we finally received five years later. Kung Fu Panda 3's plot continues from this ending, beginning with Li, Poe's father, discovering his son after receiving a "message from the universe," something Po's adopted father, Mr. Ping (James Hong), isn't at all pleased with. Soon, however, a new threat arrises, and this threat is an old accomplice of their former master, Kai (J.K. Simmons), who's using supernatural powers to take over China. It's up to Po and his newly-found panda family to stop him.
Kung Fu Panda 3 is a heart warming and laugh out loud hilarious affair, full of jokes for people (and pandas) of all ages. When I left the screening, someone I knew asked me if I was the oldest person in the cinema by about ten years. Oh, how they were wrong. My cinema was full of people of all ages, varying from little kids to the elderly. The screening wasn't necessarily sold out, but there was still a wide range of audience members, and nearly every last one of them was laughing at this movie. Kung Fu Panda, like many animal based movies, isn't aimed primarily at kids. Sure, kids will love it, but it's still got plenty for older audiences to connect with and be moved by. Plus, it had me in hysterics, so that's always a good thing.
It's a bright and colourful film that's very simple in plot, and that's perfect for this franchise. The Kung Fu Panda movies don't have to have an overcomplicated plot with twists and turns left, right and centre. It's smooth sailing, and while minor aspects are fairly predictable, the overall story arc is a lot of fun to watch unfold, and it really helps when the camera work and colour palette is off the chains. This is a shockingly beautiful movie, especially the scenes in which the two directors blend together multiple animation styles, most notably in a training montage about two thirds of the way through. The animation is stunning to behold.
Kung Fu Panda 3, believe it or not, currently holds, although we're only 3 months in, the record for having the single best cast of the year. Seriously though, the voice cast in this movie is insane, featuring the talents of Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, J.K. Simmons, Dustin Hoffman, Bryan Cranston, Jackie Chan and so many more celebrities, and yet, none of them feel out of place. It's an a-list cast who all give it their best. With Kung Fu Panda 3, everyone is full of expression and life, helping to create a believable universe in which pandas can do kung fu, and I loved it. Not everybody gets an awful lot of screen time, but I was certainly pleased to see that all of the Furious Five members actually got to do something in this film, as in previous instalments some characters are there to give a line or two and then the movie ends. This time around, everybody gets their time to shine.
I am unsure as to whether or not a fourth Kung Fu Panda movie is going to happen, but if it does, you can guarantee you'll be seeing me in line opening day. If we were to get more and more of Po's adventures over the next few years, I wouldn't complain. That being said, if this were to be the wrap up to the Kung Fu Panda trilogy, it's a beyond admirable way to go. Not only is it the best film of the trilogy, but the film's ending is rather sweet, and serves as great closure to a great trilogy. Will it be the end? I hope not. And if it is? I'd be happy with what we got over the last eight years.
To sum up, Kung Fu Panda 3 is the best Kung Fu Panda movie yet, bringing together an a-list cast for a hilarious, moving, colourful and well shot animated movie that can appeal to people of all ages. Think this franchise is running out of steam? Think again.
4 1/2 Stars