Having avoided seeing the most dreaded sequel this season (Alvin & the Chipmunks 4 -- Really, 4???), we did find ourselves in a rather sparse theater Friday evening watching Kung Fu Panda 3. I can't believe I'm admitting this, but when Kung Fu Panda 2 ended, I did sort of want to know if Po would find his panda Dad. I've kind've been wondering what was taking these Dreamworks people so long, ending the "2" sequel on such a cliffhanger. Well, now I can go on with my life -- Po and his dad are reunited.
I don't feel weird admitting that I generally have really liked the Kung Fu Panda franchise. Jack Black is great as Po, the chunky, cuddly panda who saves kung fu fighting and is named the "dragon warrior," even though he has to start learning the ancient art from the beginning. The ensemble cast of the "Furious Five" led by Dustin Hoffman's Shifu is also really entertaining. The dialogue is witty, and the plots interesting. But, the "3" sequel is not as sharp, not as funny. It is not bad, like painfully bad (see Minions), but it just doesn't live up to the other two movies.
At the end of KFP2, we see an older male panda get a "message from the universe" that his son is alive. We have already learned that Po's dad (the goose) found him in a radish crate and raised him as his own. KFP2 has a subplot of Po dealing with this news. So, you sort of know going in that KFP3 is going to feature Po's panda dad. But, Po finds his dad, Li, in the first few scenes of KFP3, in his own family restaurant. So, there's not a lot of suspense or interest there. Also, Li is not that interesting of a character. He's not even that likeable. Or funny.
The main conflict then is that an ancient villain, Kai (J.K. Simmons), has returned from the Spirit Realm, where he has learned how to take other beings' chi. He sets out to take the chi from all the kung fu masters, including Shifu and the Furious Five. Shifu learns that centuries ago, a village of pandas (Po's village) was able to control chi, meaning that Po might be able to beat Kai. Li declares that the pandas in his village know how to control chi and that if Po returns with him, Po will learn this skill. However, Li is not being truthful with Po, and disaster ensues.
I wish that Li had been a more interesting character, but maybe that's too much to hope for in a short animated feature. The fun Furious Five also don't get a lot of screen time because their chi is taken pretty quickly. So, most of the movie involves really cute pandas (that all look very similar) doing pretty cute things, but I missed the banter between Po and the gang, particularly Angelina Jolie's Tigress. And, I'm not waiting anxiously for KFP4!