Kung Fu Panda 3 – Review (*** 1/2)

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Proof that cinematic comfort food need not exist without genuine emotion and a substantial narrative, Kung Fu Panda 3 is a rare threequel that lives up to what came before, even if it’s essentially more of the same charming goodness.

After Grand Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) has his chi stolen by fierce spirit warrior Kai (J. K. Simmons), it falls to Po (Jack Black) to stop him. However, Po also has to deal with the responsibility of replacing a retiring Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) as teacher, and the sudden arrival of his biological father, Li (Bryan Cranston).

If the previous film took the series to unexpected emotional spaces with its reveal that Po’s father is still alive, number three is very much a natural progression of this, a moving fathers-and-son tale first and foremost (because remember, there’s Po’s adoptive father, Mr. Ping, too), yet one that doesn’t force its sentiment.

As Po is introduced to a panda village he never knew existed, an array of charming and cute new characters are thrown at the audience, and though few of them beyond Li are explored in any depth, they nevertheless should plaster a smile to all but the most cynical of faces.

Still, it’s Cranston who is in many ways the movie’s ace; his expressive voice makes him a ripe addition to the cast, mostly just fun and laid-back but nailing the high-drama also. None of it is especially surprising and you’ll probably know what sort of resolution it will arrive at before even stepping foot in the cinema, but it’s so agreeably earnest that, in honesty, the lack of surprise isn’t at all an issue.

And of course, while many of the supporting sidekick characters do feel even more under-served than usual (the likes of Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu in particular get maybe two or three lines a-piece), they’re still given a wealth to do in the movie’s plentiful, visually stunning action sequences. It’s all totally absurd, wildly over-the-top, and damn good fun to soak in.

It’s certainly not as substantial or mature as the better efforts from Pixar, but Jack Black’s winning lead combines with killer action and delightful sweetness to make this a superior family-orientated yarn that really works.

Also, I’d like to single out the brilliant James Hong for particular praise; the man was in his mid-eighties when he recorded his role as Mr. Ping, and his hilarious vivacity continues to impress, especially considering how many scenes in the movie he effortlessly steals. Bravo, sir.

*** 1/2

Kung Fu Panda 3 is in US cinemas now and UK cinemas March 11th

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