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A Triumphant Third Entry in One of DreamWorks’ Strongest Series

cover Should there be anyone left in the world unsure of DreamWorks’ incredible sensibilities when it comes to producing quality, endearing computer generated feature films, a dose of Kung Fu Panda 3 should be all that’s required to squish any doubts.

The third edition of the Kung Fu Panda film franchise (not counting a host of holiday themed mini movies, shorts, an animated series etc.) came to us on January 29th, 2016 with a run-time of 95-minutes. It was built on a budget of $145-million and managed to gross $521.2-mil worldwide by the time it completed its theatrical run.
In most film series the third iteration begins to feel a bit tired but Kung Fu Panda 3 avoids all of the usual trappings by offering up perhaps the strongest emotional connection of the franchise to date. The story opens with the happenings of the spirit realm and the late Grand master Oogway’s (Randall Duk Kim) ongoing struggles with an enchanted-blade wielding yak named Kai (J. K. Simmons).

Kai, it turns out, has mastered the ancient art of capturing chi and turning the life force of those he’s imprisoned into emeralds that he keeps on a chain. It is only in capturing the chi of Oogway that Kai is powerful enough to enter the mortal realm where he finds Po (Jack Black) in the awkward transition from student to teacher.

Things get ugly in a hurry when Po discovers training the Furious Five; Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Monkey (Jackie Chan), isn’t near as effortless as Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) made it look. Stymied and humiliated, Po is taught that he needs to find himself to fulfill his destiny as the Dragon Warrior.

Further complicating things, he discovers his real father (Bryan Cranston) in a chance encounter in town just as Kai’s zombie minions begin to unleash their havoc upon the land.

Under the fluid and beautifully paced direction of Jennifer Yuh Nelson (who helmed Kung Fu Panda 2) and Alessandro Carloni, the third film is never in danger of feeling like a retread; but instead offers up a whole new dimension to the established mythos with poise and grace.

Perhaps most impressive here is the depiction of an older, slightly wiser Po without ever compromising the character’s immature enthusiasm. Thankfully, there was no need to demonstrate the passage of time here by making Po married with children or any other such similar cliche’, rather an ending sequence where Oogway passes the proverbial torch onto Po with pride beautifully says it all without having to say much. You feel the maturation that accompanied Po’s journey from the first film all those years ago.
Add to this a perfectly written score from Hans Zimmer and the entire experience feels soaring, tense at times and always laced with just the right amount of comedic relief.

Back in 2010, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg announced that the Kung Fu Panda franchise was planned to have six movies, or “chapters”, altogether. If that’s still true, we’re only halfway through the saga and while DreamWorks can be known to stretch things out a little longer than necessary at times (Shrek or Madagascar, anyone?), the truth of the matter is Kung Fu Panda has proven some series actually get stronger as time goes on.