|'The animation is the best seen in the series yet, and probably the best of any DreamWorks animated feature to date'.|
The fundamental problem with the Kung Fu Panda franchise is that, after the first film (which I liked a lot), those behind the scenes simply haven't had enough of an idea of where to satisfyingly take it. It was the key issue with the second film, which was also rife with a number of other subsequent problems, and it's unfortunately the case once again in Kung Fu Panda 3.
Whilst there's certainly more here of worth than in the previous installment, the failings within this second sequel are still too great to ignore. The plot is telegraphed throughout, with the relationship between Po (Jack Black) and his estranged biological father Li (Bryan Cranston) following an entirely predictable plot arc. The interplay between these two and Po's adoptive father Mr. Ping (James Hong) meanwhile has the potential to be the best part of the whole film, presenting as it does a refreshingly modern exploration of the nature of family, but neither the script nor directors Jennifer Yuh and Alessandro Carloni seem interested in exploring it in anything more than a somewhat trite and syrupy fashion.
The journey Po takes to battling new antagonist Kai (J. K. Simmons) is better, but can hardly be called original, at times feeling too similar to that seen in the first film. Plot points are lazily explained through exposition, including Po asking question after question of Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) near the start of the film to get across the newly introduced concept of chi.
Even with a predictable plot and uninspired writing, the directors still manage to both repair some of the faults seen in the first sequel and make Kung Fu Panda 3 consistently entertaining. Both Shifu and the Furious Five, after being almost entirely wasted in the franchise's second installment, are once again given both a purpose and some enjoyable moments throughout. Simmons as Kai does well, and the supernatural nature of the character feels fresh compared to the previous villains in the series, even if the story does not.
The animation is the best seen in the series yet, and probably the best of any DreamWorks animated feature to date. The opening sequence set in the spirit realm demonstrates all that is good about the style of the franchise, presenting a luscious blend of CGI and traditional Chinese iconography, and there's another gorgeous hand-drawn section to savour as well. Whilst there are a number of pleasing martial arts action sequences, once again DreamWorks too often wastes the film's artistic potential by providing too little of substance and allowing the studio's less satisfying brand of physical humour to take over.
Kung Fu Panda 3 is available on UK Blu-ray and DVD now.