Review: 'Kung Fu Panda 3', fart jokes 0
The word that best describes the Kung Fu Panda film series, in my opinion, is "classy."
Which is surprising, because DreamWorks Animation was not known as a classy studio. The studio got its start with Shrek (a movie studio founder Jeffrey Katzenberg consider's DreamWorks' "North Star," whatever that means), which didn't introduce the fart joke to mainstream animation, but certainly played a big part in popularizing it. It's not a classy movie, is what I'm saying, and it has no pretensions otherwise. And so, for seven years, that was DreamWorks, where the world of animated movies was you were either Disney or Pixar, or you were, at best, the angry rejects who could only hope to stand out by virtue of crassness.
Enter Kung Fu Panda, a movie that features Jack Black as an overweight anthropomorphic panda with a nervous eating habit. The fart jokes should have written themselves, right? I went into that movie expecting a fun "romp," an innocuous time waster with a couple friends. Even as a furry, a DreamWorks animation movie, even one about anthropomorphic animals, meant it was, at best, going to be okay. Instead, it felt like a lightning strike; this was a real movie. It respected its characters, its setting, its story, its audience. And then, somehow, the sequel was even better.
So, anyway, Kung Fu Panda 3 is also pretty good. And also way classier than my headline, which contains the word fart. I guess you could describe that headline as "gassy." And this review now contains more fart jokes than the entire Kung Fu Panda trilogy. Isn't that funny?
The movie begins in the spirit realm, where we find the kung fu turtle Master Oogway (voiced by Randall Duk Kim) meditating on inner peace, as kung fu masters in the spirit realm are naturally inclined to do. He is interrupted by Kai (voiced by J.K. Simmons), who is what the Kung Fu Panda wikia assures me is a yak, though I have my doubts, and also a master of defeating and collecting kung fu masters (just like Pokémon!). By collecting Oogway, he'll be able to return to the mortal realm, and destroy all of Master Oogway's students in a revenge scheme. Turns out, Oogway and Kai have a history.
Meanwhile, in the mortal realm, Master Shifu (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) gives Po the duty of becoming the new teacher at the dojo, despite the fact he's not very good at it. Po goes home to his adopted goose father, Mr. Ping (voiced by James Hong), only to find that he's not Po's only father at the noodle shop today. Po is reunited with his biological father, Li (voiced by Bryan Cranston), which turns out not to be entirely coincidental.
It also turns out Kai, who has been sending jade statues of long dead kung fu masters to attack various living kung fu masters, is a master of chi, which is what he uses to capture and enslave the masters. However, he learned about chi from a remote village of pandas, so Li can take Po to the village and teach him the technique he needs to defeat Kai. Right?
Just writing it out for this review, I'm realizing there is a lot of backstory in this movie, but I assure you, the movie handles it much more gracefully than, well, this review, for example.
If there is one "original sin" with the Kung Fu Panda franchise, it's the Furious Five (Angelina Jolie voicing Master Tigress, Jackie Chan as Monkey, Seth Rogen as Mantis, Lucy Liu as Viper and David Cross as Crane). That is not to say that the Furious Five aren't awesome; they are completely awesome! It's just, from a storytelling point, there are about four too many of them, and the movies have continually struggled to give them something to do other than get beat up by the bad guy (they, seriously, have not won a fight without Po in any movie). Lucy Liu's Viper gets the shaft especially hard this time; she has the least screen time and lines of any of the five, including Jackie Chan's Monkey (I love Chan, but he's not an English voice actor, and the movies have known this from the beginning). Crane, however, does for once get a scene all to himself (in which he gets beat up), and Seth Rogen as Mantis is very obviously trying to steal every scene he's in, which is kind of impressive for an animated character. But, the truth is, this is a franchise called Kung Fu Panda, not The Furious Five, and they have always been a bit superfluous (I assume they get their own spotlight episodes in the TV series, a medium where a team dynamic is better suited, but I don't actually watch it, so I can't be sure).
Master Tigress, once again, is left as the only member of the Furious Five to get to do anything of note, or to have her own character arc (though it's a bit in the background). And, no, there still isn't direct acknowledgement of a relationship, or possibility of relationship, beyond "friends," between Po and Tigress. Somewhere in the spirit realm, Roger Ebert is disappointed. As far as "cross species pollination" is concerned, the ball is now in Zootopia's court.
But speaking of romance, there is a female panda, Mei Mei, and she does flirt with Po, but not in a way that feels like Po/Tigress shippers should despair for Kung Fu Panda 4. She's voiced by Kate Hudson, who is doing her gamest Rebel Wilson impression, due to fact that she replaced Wilson as the voice of the character fairly late in the process. J.K. Simmons also replaced Mads Mikkelsen as the voice of Kai; that was a bit earlier, and the role feels like it was changed more for the new actor (I have trouble hearing Mikkelsen's voice bantering with Po quite as much).
This was probably a consequence of the movie's dance around the release calendar (it was at one point a 2015 release, but also danced around a March release for a while). There were also changes behind the camera; Alessandro Carloni joined Kung Fu Panda 2 director Jennifer Yuh as co-director, apparently at Yuh's request.
This is, hands down, the funniest Kung Fu Panda movie. Which is an accomplishment. I'm also going to say its the weakest, overall, of the three. However, don't construe that as a pan of the movie; this is still solidly a "go see this movie, like, right now" review. And I don't mean that like "if you're a furry," either. I mean this is a good movie, period. The fact that it's not as good as Kung Fu Panda and Kung Fu Panda 2 is not a slight, because those movies are also fantastic. The fact that they're furry is just icing on the cake.
Seriously, the movie started playing, and I just started smiling. Because it's just great to be watching it.