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Kung Fu Panda 3 review: surprisingly heartfelt

March 10, 2016

FilmReview | by Dominic Preston


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Continuing his ‘legendary adventure of awesomeness,’ Po faces his biggest challenge yet as the master of destruction Kai has returned from the spirit realm, and only one person can stop him: Po, the Dragon Warrior. But he must first travel down a road of discovery to find out who he really is, as his long lost biological father returns to bring him home. With time running out and Kai closing in, Po must decide who he truly wishes to be.

After our last adventure with Po (Jack Black), he and the furious five are stronger than ever, still under the strict guidance of Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and protecting the town from its enemies. Shifu finally decides it’s time to teach Po what it really means to be the Dragon Warrior, and hands over the responsibility of training The Five – which goes about as well as you might expect. Meanwhile, in the Spirit Realm the legendary and evil Kai (JK Simmons) has been collecting enough power to re-enter the mortal realm to reclaim his name and defeat all those who threaten him.

With Po’s self-confidence at an all-time low and the biggest threat yet looming, who should show up but his biological father Li (Bryan Cranston)? Po and his loveable noodle- crazed adoptive father Mr Ping (James Hong) travel with Li to the last panda village in China to continue his training.

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Admittedly, the story structure hasn’t changed in three films, but only gotten bigger, longer and with more characters. Once again, Po faces what seems like an impossible opponent that he is unprepared for, but with determination, and after a spiritual epiphany, Po becomes strong enough to overcome anything. There’s clearly an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ attitude at work.

One thing Kung Fu Panda 3 has that might distinguish it from its forebears is the fantastic dynamic between the two fathers, Li and Mr Ping, first vicious and untrusting but later becoming a true family. It’s a family dynamic that’s mostly new to family friendly movies like this, and plays a major part in lending the film its emotional depth.

It’s that depth that does the most to make Kung Fu Panda 3 work when it does. Never mind kids, this is unlikely to leave many parents dry-eyed by the finale. Strong on the themes of family, friendship and love, Kung Fu Panda 3 is, at its heart, a story of self-discovery and happiness, and all the better for it.

Words by Charlie Quirke