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Kung Fu Panda 3

BY SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE

Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni

Starring: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, J. K. Simmons, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Bryan Cranston, Kate Hudson, and James Hong

This film franchise surely displays surprising artistic depth while wallowing with the lead character in un-predictable and fun-filled plots. Kung Fu Panda-series survives on its quirky humor and captures the very essence of a typical martial arts film which is distilled into an animated piece appealing both to kids and adults alike. And there’s no denying that this trilogy is one of the best franchises to have come out of DreamWorks Animation Studios. The big risk involved is of course coming up with the inevitable follow up film given the profits that it had raked in, that won’t be an insult to its fans, and yet maintaining that same level of appeal the original had. Kung Fu Panda 3 succeeded. Now passing the reins over to directors Jennifer Yuh and Nelson Alessandro Carloni was bewildering, but they indeed turned out to be perfect in guiding the sequel and the beloved characters in yet another adventure, with bigger set action pieces, touching dramatic moments, and retaining plenty of humour from the get go. Jack Black returns as the lovable Po, and shows us just why we missed him so much in the years we had to wait. Very rarely a trilogy is seen that manages to dole out its character arc in such consistent and satisfying manner.

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The first film established Po’s rise to greatness, the second revealed his backstory, and this one ties the two together. Considerably improved and significantly enjoyable, the film packs quite the punch both visually and entertainment-wise. The story follows Po continuing his duties as the Dragon Warrior. Things soon start to change for Po when Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) decides to retire and appoints Po to the responsibility of teaching the Furious Five members ― Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Monkey (Jackie Chan) while he pursues the ancient art of ‘Chi’.

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This straight away conjures up the formula of the underdog scenario ― with Po struggling with his requirements at first but slowly gaining momentum as he goes. Po finds his new undertaking harder than expected and begins to question whether or not he is right for the role. Po heads home to his adoptive father Mr. Ping (James Hong) at his noodle shop where a panda named Li Shan (Bryan Cranston) breaks Po’s dumpling-eating record, who amazingly turns out to be his original father. Morals, especially those geared towards finding one’s own self, are integrated into the script which also add some more depth to Po’s characterization. Seeing Po reunited with his kind starts pulling the heartstrings, and the interactions with his ‘dads’ are memorable. Bryan Cranston is basically amazing at everything he does and his Li is no exception.

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However, every film needs a baddie to drive the action, and here, as with the rest of the film, we have a conundrum. The villain Kai who once happened to be Grand Master Oogway’s old friend, is a supernatural nemesis sweeping across China aiming to defeat all kung-fu masters. J.K. Simmons is perfect as the menacing yak, Kai. Now Po has to travel to the hidden Panda village along with Mr. Ping and Li Shan to learn the ancient art of chi and use it to vanquish Kai from the mortal realm.

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Writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger comes up with a natural progression of the story of Po and fills it with a lot more elements from classic martial arts film formulas. And a venture into the spiritual realm allows the gorgeous animation to thrive even more than normal. In the gigantic ensemble cast, newcomer Kate Hudson makes a good impression with her hysterical delivery as the confident ribbon-dancing Panda, Mei Mei.  At 1 hour and 35 minutes the pacing of the film is very well done and the depth and design of the film give it the feel of an expanded “universe” in the sense that it ties in incredibly well with the first two films, and amplifies them. Subplots or backstories take on a two-dimensional look; colors morph into flat silhouettes to break up the supposed monotony of cartoony characters thus showcasing stunningly realistic settings. With fantastic visuals, a stunning soundtrack from Zimmer and perfect voice talent from an ensemble cast, ‘Kung Fu Panda 3′ is yet another brilliant entry in both the franchise and Dreamworks’ filmography. The film’s animation remains as phenomenal as ever, with Po and company zipping about in fluid motion.

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Image source: Official Facebook page

The film seamlessly switches idioms from animation to anime and even employs the art of Chinese shadow play. Ultimately you can’t help being overwhelmed by eye-watering frames, and the elegant production design. It’s equally engaging as the previous films, only because it has a sliver of a story, and its heart in the right place. There is enough humor and wonderful artwork to satisfy the adult in the audience, while throwing enough action at the youngsters to keep ’em entertained. A solid effort from Dreamworks.

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