Entire family: Yes
2016, 95 min., Color
DreamWorks/20th Century Fox
Rated PG for martial arts action and some rude humor
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: C+/B-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
The Blu-ray box proclaims that Kung Fu Panda 3 is “Certified Fresh” by Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 6.8/10 and 126 critics giving it a “fresh” rating, while 20 pronounced it “rotten.”
Fresh, rotten. With this film it’s splitting hairs.
Tomatometer critics gave Kung Fu Panda 2 an average rating of 6.9, and the original Kung Fu Panda earned an average rating of 7.2. I thought both were better than that, but while I enjoyed and found myself instantly invested in them, that wasn’t the case with the third. In the early going I was squirming like a three year old, wondering when #3 was finally going to find it’s footing and engage the audience. That’s a shame, considering all the high-powered voice talents in this animated sequel— among them, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Kate Hudson, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Wayne Knight.
The opening sequence is all action and no context, and the first 29 minutes are a narrative mish-mash. Only after Kung Fu Panda master Po (voiced by Jack Black) gets a surprise visit from his biological father (Bryan Cranston) does the film finally find its trajectory so you can finally start to care. Apparently discovering in previous films that he’s the Dragon Warrior isn’t enough. In this animated adventure Po still has an identity crisis when Master Shifu (Hoffman) tells him there’s more to identity that Kung Fu. He has to learn who is IS. So when his real dad shows up and tells him he will teach him the secrets if he’ll return with him to the hidden village of the pandas (which Po thought were all dead), Master Shifu agrees, and Po’s adoptive duck father, Mr. Ping (James Hong), reluctantly consents.
The new bull villain is almost Marvelesque, but the villains in the first two movies made more sense. In Kung Fu Panda (2008), a former pupil of turtle Master Oogway who chose the dark side had escaped from prison and the powerful leopard was intent on taking his revenge out on the entire Valley of Peace. In Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011), a prequel, an evil peacock named Lord Shen tried to exterminate the panda population in order to negate a prophecy that a panda warrior would be his undoing. Later Po and the Furious Five Kung Fu Masters set out to stop Lord Shen from unleashing a powerful weapon that would make him the new ruler of China.
Both of those scenarios were more instantly understandable than what we’re given in the third installment. Kai is an old friend of Master Oogway, and together they apparently healed the secret village of pandas after it was attacked by Lord Shen. The pandas, in return, taught the two how to use Qi. Oogway apparently defeated Kai and banished him to the spirit realm, where, confusingly, a deceased Oogway also floats around among unanchored mountains and Monument Valley formations. Meanwhile, Kai escapes from the spirit world and, using Qi, defeats the Kung Fu masters one by one and obtains their essences, their Qi, which he hangs from his belt like shrunken heads that he then can unleash like super zombies of sorts to do his bidding.
Then we get a little Magnificent Seven as Po and his father and his stowaway adoptive father reach the secret valley and learn that Kai is headed there. In really short order—not much longer than the span of a montage—Po starts to teach the panda peasants how to be Kung Fu masters, and the great defense battle is on. How much you like Kung Fu Panda 3 will depend on how much you’re willing to overlook those first 29 minutes and just watch the film and not think too much about questions and explanations.
Typically it’s adults who want more logic and character development rather than simply colorful action, cutesy characters, and physical humor. As a result, though the first two Kung Fu Panda movies were bona fide family movie night options for the everyone, this one may appeal mostly to the kids, unless you just sit back and enjoy the animation and Blu-ray quality, which is superb. The Rotten Tomatoes critics gave Kung Fu Panda 3 a 6.8, which is just below B range. It’s a B-/C+ on the Family Home Theater scale, and whether you flip that or not, it’s still the weakest entry in the trilogy.
Sex: Nothing except for an androgynous panda who may be a transvestite
Violence: Everybody was Kung Fu fighting
Adult situations: n/a
Takeaway: Funny how we have idioms to cover everything: third time’s the charm or three strikes and you’re out; after this third film, I’m just not seeing where this franchise could possibly go