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Review: 'Kung Fu Panda 4'

Edited by GreenReaper
Your rating: None Average: 2.9 (7 votes)

'Kung Fu Panda 4' poster I've already seen this movie twice, paying full price both times. Kung Fu Panda 4 is the first movie I've watched multiple times in theaters since Zootopia. I liked it, is what I'm saying. It is part of the Kung Fu Panda series of movies, which would be important to furry movie fans even if they weren't very good. No other fully-anthropomorphic-animal-populated movie franchise out there has gotten to four movies. Fortunately, the series has consistently been one of the better animated franchises, furry or not.

In this fourth instalment, directed by Oklahoma's own Mike Mitchell (with co-director Stephanie Ma Stine), the titular Kung Fu Panda, Po (voiced by Jack Black), first Dragon Warrior of the Valley of Peace, is tasked with finding his replacement by Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffmann) – explicitly identified as a red panda for the first time in the series. Unwilling to accept giving up his role as protector of the Valley, he instead joins sneaky fox thief Zhen (voiced by Awkwafina, Zhen is not one of the "big three" fox species of red, Arctic and fennec, but a rarely-seen Corsac fox) on a quest to defeat the Chameleon (Viola Davis; no bonus points for guessing her species), an evil sorceress with the ability to shapeshift and steal kung fu powers, like a PG funny animal version of Mortal Kombat's Shang Tsung.

Despite the eight years since the franchise's last instalment, this directly builds upon elements of the last film, where Po visited the spirit realm and was gifted a magic staff. This staff grants users the ability to travel between what is essentially the living world and the afterlife; the Chameleon plans on stealing it in order to use its powers to then steal the kung fu of dead masters for herself, including the three previous villains of the movies. Snow leopard Tai Lung (voiced by Ian McShane), who fought Po in the first movie, is her first victim; the second and third movie's villains – peacock Lord Shen and yak Kai – also appear, albeit as unvoiced cameos.

Speaking of unvoiced cameos, this is also the role the Furious Five play in the movie. Longtime fans of the franchise may be disappointed by this, but even though Master Tigress is still probably my favorite character in the franchise, seeing as how I spent an entire rather long paragraph of my otherwise very positive review of Kung Fu Panda 3 complaining the Furious Five had nothing to do but get beat up by the bad guy in every previous movie, I can't say that I disagree with this choice. I didn't need to see the Chameleon humiliate them for a fourth time. It's nice to know Tigress actually got a win in one of these movies, even if it was offscreen and against something called the Free Range Chicken Gang. Besides, the way they are re-introduced seems to be a setup for a spin off movie, which feels overdue at this point.
Besides Po and Zhen, the other characters with major roles are Po's "dads", Ping (voiced by James Hong), Po's adoptive goose father, and Li (voiced by Bryan Cranston), his biological father. Since the events of last movie, they've started living together, and though the movie never really reveals its hand one way or another, it's not unfair to feel like Roger Ebert's hope for some "cross-species pollination" has finally come to fruition, in an entirely unexpected way. Together, they decide to follow Po on his adventure, to see what help they can offer him. Other new characters include Ke Huy Quan as a short, round pangolin who served as an early criminal mentor to Zhen, and Ronny Chieng as the franchise's first fish character, a boat captain who lives in the beak pouch of a pelican (Jean Dujardin).

The movie contains the series' usual mixture of martial arts and comedy. The pacing comes off a bit more frantic this time around, but still contains some memorable sight gags (such as Zhen doing the classic fox dive in order to retrieve money pouches from defeated enemies) as well as more serious, exciting fight choreography near the end. Kung Fu Panda 4 uses the animal aspects of the characters for humor more than the previous movies. Besides the aforementioned fox diving, a short bit where Zhen eats a cookie like a real fox rather than a cartoon one is pretty good. Yes, that was done in Fantastic Mr. Fox, but it's better set up here. The dialogue also seems to be trying harder for one liners, though this is hit or miss. Shifu ending one of his angry outbursts with "I'm going to go meditate! A lot!" is a line I'm going to have to steal in my own life, while the Chameleon complaining about a moonrise taking too long landed with a very quiet thud.

The character designs are fun as ever. Zhen fits right in with Po, and of course I loved her. As a character, she's a complete reverse of Awkwafina's earlier role of Sisu in Raya and the Last Dragon. Her character's cute look in that movie accentuated her character's innocence, and her wilful inability to distrust anyone. Zhen, on the other hand, uses her character's innocent looks to charm all those around her, but finds altruism and generosity suspicious, and Awkwafina's voice work is great at both.

The movie forgoes the painterly, stylized look of Puss in Boots: The Last Wish that the trailer for The Wild Robot, DreamWorks' next movie, seems to suggest will be the studio's trademark style going forward. I think this is the correct choice, as the Kung Fu Panda franchise already had a strong visual aesthetic. Kung Fu Panda 2, especially, already did what The Last Wish was trying to do back in 2011.

Besides the possible spin-off of a Furious Five based movie, while there isn't a specific sequel tease, the movie pointedly leaves open the possibility of a fifth movie in the franchise. Now, there are times when it seems best to just let a franchise end. But I think part of the reason, say, a fifth Toy Story rankles so much is because the stories of the last two movies seemed to be the creatives saying this story is over, before the box office returns had the studio executives saying, no, it is not. But there isn't that feeling here. Even thematically, the movie says things change, but that's not a bad thing. It just means they can keep moving forward.

Whether the next movie is The Furious Five, Kung Fu Panda 5 (or perhaps even Kung Fu Vixen), well, I'll be waiting for it.


Your rating: None Average: 1 (1 vote)

Did you ever watch the TV series of "Kung Fu Panda?" I thought it was pretty good, although it's been so long I've kinda forgotten most of it...

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Nope. I assume the Furious Five do a bit more than get their ass handed to them there, but I don't know.

From what I gather from TV Tropes, there are actually about five different TV shows at this point, all of them basically contradicting each other, the DVD extra shorts (which I have seen and are generally pretty good, though they also contradict each other), the movies themselves and sometimes their own episodes, and were therefore basically ignored by this movie. So, it's kind of like how I feel about the Disney+ Star Wars shows; it's a movie series and I'm a movie guy. I'll survive never having watched them.

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I haven't seen the TV series available, even as DVDs, for years; it didn't have the fur effects of the movies but the animation was very close in quality. The voice actors were mostly replacements, but very good ones--in most cases you can barely hear the difference. I think Mr. Ping was the only character to keep his original voice actor.

The Furious Five did get both more screen time, and more storytelling. It was much more of a "buddy picture," but that's probably because it was a series and had the time to concentrate on the secondary characters more.

If you're a fan of the movies, and can ever find the series, I'd recommend it.

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I did go looking on TV Tropes for some recaps or something, and it seems there have been three seperate shows; the original Nickelodeon show which tried to keep in continuity with the movies to the point it kind of hampered it (probably the one you're recommending), an Amazon Prime streaming show that sounds like it would have been fine as a continuation after 3 but sounds like is being ignored, and then, there's the most recent, a Netflix streaming show that is ... holy goddamn shit, this is fucking insane. Po travels to medieval animal world Europe and everything about this sounds very, very bad!

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It does sound a bit off. Are they missing some voice actors? Or maybe it was just processed differently, or sounds different in my headphones . . .

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Ironically, it's supposed to be the only one Jack Black did return for, but, yeah, it does sound off. I mean, it's definitely Black, but I'm thinking they must've spliced some lines together for the trailer, if I had to theorize.

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I saw the earliest series you mentioned. The guy who voiced Po did a better job (IMHO) than Jack Black, and Fred Tatasciore did a great job as Master Shifu. The Furious Five were given expanded roles--even given dedicated episodes--and there were many memorable side-characters created. The villagers below the Jade Palace were also fleshed out.

It was never fully released on DVD, as far as I know. We got a few of the collections, and there were a couple "holiday specials" released. The animation was on par with the movie (although they did not have fiber detail) and the storytelling was very good. We enjoyed it a lot.

I know nothing of any later versions.

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"Kung Fu Panda: Legends Of Awesomeness" was the name of the series.

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We don't often talk about box office news, and technically I'm not right now (this is a comment and under no editorial jurisdiction), but Kung Fu Panda 4 actually had the second best opening weekend in the franchise's history, right behind the first one. Now, there have been some not very good things happening at DreamWorks, which kind of gives that a bitter aftertaste, but the franchise should continue on without a problem. There are other factors other than people just like the movie; Migration basically stayed in theaters until it passed the baton to KF4, so there wasn't a good "family" moving playing until now. Ironically, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish was the movie that did the "whole winter" thing last year (and, theoretically, it probably should have been Wish this year, but boy that movie flopped). But there is a lot of good will for the franchise, still.

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Okay, so it is kind of funny after Kung Fu Panda 4 finally faced facts and said "Nobody wants to see the Chameleon steal Seth Rogen Bug's powers and put him in a cage ... again. (Also, we totally can't afford Angelina Jolie.)" they also went with "For The Bad Guys 2, not only are we keeping the original team of five plus the sixth new member, but we're also bringing in a completely new team of five members."

Anyway, I hope the hyena looks cool!

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Okay, bored on a Saturday morning, so kind-of-gross, more-or-less-baseless speculation on innocent children's characters' sexualities and sex lives (one star dude, this is the one you need to get on!).

🐼Po-Asexual, but not aromantic. He's a panda, the only species in the world in danger of extinction due to lack of interest in sex, but in the movie he's also just kind of a big goof who's more interested in kung fu than relationships. Obviously had a crush on Tigress, and fantasizes about being thought of as "handsome", so he's not against a relationship or completely lacking in any sexual attraction, so not aromantic, and heterosexual in his limited yearnings, but it's still more of a case of "it would be cool to be Tigress's boyfriend" rather than "I want Tigress".

🐯Tigress-Aromanctic, and probably also asexual. Mostly just basing this off the movies, but also vague recollections of the Legends of Awesomeness TV show Nightstar recommended; when it backs me up, I use it as evidence. When it doesn't, I don't. But, anyway, TV Tigress literally has stated "romance is a distraction" (points for me!) but also had a crush on Po in disguise for an episode (so ignoring that). Anyway, perhaps in another world, she had some kind of sexuality, but in this setting she seems to have trained herself out of one, though as I don't think that's really possible, I doubt she had much interest to begin with.

🐍Viper-Probably heterosexual, and feels like one of two members of the Furious Five most likely to have any sort of relationship, sexual, romantic or otherwise, outside of "work". The movies imply she's not only the nicest of the five, but also is considered "the hot one" in universe.

🐵Monkey-Gay. This is a "Charlton Heston as Ben-Hur" situation.

🏗️🪽Crane-Heterosexual. One of the DVD shorts clearly implied he had a crush on a leopardess. However, he's kind of shy, and probably just gave up on sex when he started kung fu, so probably still a virgin.

🦗Mantis-Heterosexual. Married as of the last movie, in fact. Seeing as how this is actively life-endangering for his species, very heterosexual. In order the marry, he had to be at least socially active, as well.

🔴🐼Shifu-Heterosexual. Legends of Awesomeness had an entire episode about his ex, but he's old and cranky and hasn't been laid in decades, now.

🐢Oogway-Gay. He just feels like an old queen. Probably had a thing with Kai beyond "battle brothers".

🪿Mr. Ping-Gay. Always felt like a "dedicated bachelor" archetype, but the last two movies made it about as explicit as you can get while still remaining implicit with the "Po's two Dads" bit with Li Shan.

🐼Li Shan-Bisexual. Definitely actually loved Po's mother, so not a case of marrying against his own sexuality, but he did shack up with Ping pretty quickly. Yeah, I ship them, I guess.

🦊Zhen-Bisexual, but in about the same way Tigress is asexual. A Daniel Craig era Bond type character. She's a con artist, and is willing to use her looks to get what she wants, so she'll at least flirt with anyone. Sure, in the movie it's "I'm a cute little innocent foxy, uwu!" rather than "I'm a cute little not-so-innocent vixen, also uwu, if you know what I mean" she uses to manipulate people (she's still a kid's cartoon character, so they're all "asexual" that way), so there's not a lot of evidence other than character archetype to go on.

❄️🐆Tai Lung-Probably similar to Tigress, in that he spent his entire life dedicated to pursuit of a goal to the extent he never really developed a sexuality. However, Ian McShane's vocal performance does have a whiff of leftover "gay Disney villain" vibes.

🦚Lord Shen-Gay. Gary Oldman's villains always have more than a little camp, and he is awfully pretty.

🐃Kai-Well, if I have him as Oogway's secret gay ex, I mean, I guess I already answered that one.

🦎The Chameleon-Bisexual, and kind of non-binary, as she has no qualms about transforming into a dude. Going by character archetype of evil sorcerer, kinky as fuck, just really not PC villain here (also has that tongue). Makes me worry about her treatment of Zhen, a little.

🐺Wolf Boss-Heterosexual, based on species. He's the leader of the pack, meaning he's probably literally a father to a lot of his underlings. Also, I just can't imagine Danny McBride playing a homosexual character.

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The digital version comes with a (incredibly short) short called "Duelling Dumplings" involving Zhen and Po disagreeing about who's hometown makes better dumplings. One thing I noticed, since I've still only seen basically bootlegs on Twitter, is that the sound effects are very "chop socky"; that may be because I'm only watching someone pointing their phone at a computer screen, but when I finally saw the title screen for the short, it looked very low-budget vintage Hong Kong kung fu movie to me, so I think maybe they're doing a thing, here, or maybe I just watched a crappy version, or, hell, maybe they didn't care and the sound really is that crap.

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