Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)
★ / ★★★★
The animation looking beautiful is probably the only compliment I can give to “Kung Fu Panda 3,” directed by Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh Nelson, because it provides no compelling story, the characters we have come to know from previous installments are not challenged or changed in any way, and the jokes rely too much on cutesy exchanges and exclamations. I imagine children as young as five or six years old are likely to be entertained because of the colors and battle scenes. But intelligent viewers within the same age group are likely to be bored. The film scrapes the bottom of the barrel for a semblance of creativity.
A major character introduced is Li (voiced by Bryan Cranston), the long lost father of Po the Dragon Warrior (Jack Black). The central story involving the father-son reunion is not dealt with in a remotely interesting way. Of course, the requisite scenes involving Li and Po bonding through the activities they like to partake in, what they find amusing, and how much they look alike are present, but the screenplay offers no genuine emotional connection between them.
The writers, Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, have simplified the script to such an extent that what is left is a skeletal idea of two characters coming together. There is no substance to them; there is not one scene where Li or Po expresses how much it means to him to have found a surviving family member. I experienced a sinking feeling that the writers felt as though deep, complex emotions would go right over the heads of their target audience. So, as a solution, we are pummeled with reductive, superficial exchanges followed almost immediately by kinetic action scenes. It is astounding that given the numerous battles we are provided, not one of them stands out.
Consider Pixar films and Miyazaki pictures. They are often highly successful within and outside the expected age demographic because emotions and situations are dealt with honesty, respect, and insight. We are continually surprised by the characters and the world they inhabit exactly because we are allowed to understand their perspectives—whether it be through open dialogue, creative ways in which thoughts are expressed without words, and the decisions the characters make sometimes, especially when they are difficult or goes against their own set of morality. Life lessons organically seep into our minds.
Here, lessons about working with your natural talent is forced and, once again, reductive. The better nugget of truth to offer is that sometimes you have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone because you might find another strength that you otherwise might not discover if you stayed within your bubble. Providing alternatives is not the picture’s strength: It has a vision of going from Point A to Point B and is blind to everything else. It offers no excitement or surprises.
“Kung Fu Panda 3” inspires kids not to think outside the box. It doesn’t even teach lessons about empathy—which is pretty much the bread and butter of animation aimed toward young children, the standard. So, who is the movie for, really? The answer is the studios. This is nothing but a cash-grab from audiences who have been impressed by the “Kung Fu Panda” brand in the past. Here’s to hoping people realize the charade so no more sequels would be made.