Kung Fu Panda 3 movie review
By Evan Purcell
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More than the live action studios, all of the major animation studios have very clear house styles. Disney alternates between Broadway-style, old-school musicals and more boy-friendly adventure stories. Pixar does heartwarming buddy comedies that usually incorporate almost perversely uncommercial gimmicks that they can somehow make work. And then there’s Dreamworks, which is… The House That Shrek Built.
Dreamworks started making animated films in the mid-90s, but they didn’t figure out their house style until 2001, when Shrek grabbed the Disney model and then farted all over it. Their movies were manic, pop-culture-y, and full of famous actors doing wacky animal voices. Some of them worked (the first two Shrek films are a lot of fun), but most did not.
When the first Kung Fu Panda came out almost a decade ago, it was like a breath of fresh air. Not just because there were fewer fart jokes, but because the film seemed to be the best possible version of a Dreamworks cartoon. It had celebrity voices that weren’t squandered or overdone, kinetic action that didn’t get in the way of the story, and (best of all) the minimum amount of trendy jokes. (Re-watch the first Shrek, and you’ll see some very dated references to the Charlie’s Angels movie, for example.) In short, Kung Fu Panda was basically the best that Dreamworks could offer. It has since been eclipsed by the How to Train Your Dragon franchise, but that first Panda film has aged very well.
A few years later, the second film came out. It was just as beautifully made, just as funny, and just as well-written. And now, here in the dog days of January 2016, we have Kung Fu Panda 3, which is… exactly the same. And that’s sort of the problem.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s beautiful. There’s a nice mixture of animation styles (with some Asian influences, not surprisingly), and the action is typically great. It has a simple, family-friendly moral that kids can latch on to. There are even some heart-warming moments, mostly centered around the relationship between the titular panda, his adopted goose father, and his biological panda father. It’s all very sweet.
But we’ve seen this before. Twice.
The quality hasn’t dipped; there’s just no place else for these films to go. Sure, this time our main character is now a teacher, and we have J.K. Simmons as a fun and mystical bad guy, but the film never justifies its own existence. It doesn’t sink to the pointlessness of Shrek the Third, thankfully, but it also doesn’t offer the same sense of fulfillment as How to Train Your Dragon 2, which is still the high-water-mark for Dreamworks sequels. It’s just another fun movie about a chubby guy getting into overwhelming situations and then fighting his way out of them.
If you’re a fan of the first film, just watch that instead. You’ll get the same experience, and you’ll save money on popcorn.