[Screen It]


(2016) (voices of Jack Black, Angelina Jolie) (PG)

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Animated Action: The title character reunites with his long-lost father and must attain the warrior skills needed to combat a new, supernatural enemy.
Po (voice of JACK BLACK), the title character who is the last of his kind, returns as the ultimate fighting hero of an alternate China populated solely by talking animals and birds. Over the years, he has saved the kingdom many times with the help of his comrades in combat, the Furious Five: Tigress (voice of ANGELINA JOLIE), Monkey (voice of JACKIE CHAN), Crane (voice of DAVID CROSS), Viper (voice of LUCY LIU), and Mantis (voice of SETH ROGEN).

Now, though, they face a twofold challenge. One, their mentor, Master Shifu (voice of DUSTIN HOFFMAN), has decided to go on a quest for personal knowledge and enlightenment and has placed Po in charge. Two, a villainous yak named Kai (voice of J.K. SIMMONS) has returned from centuries of banishment in the spirit realm and is stealing the "chi" of all the great martial arts warriors and masters in his quest for world domination. Angered that the physical world has forgotten him and scared of the last great prophecy of the legendary Master Oogway (voice of RANDALL DUK KIM) -- that a panda would rise up to defeat him -- Kai vows to hunt Po down and destroy him.

To the dismay of his adoptive father, Mr. Ping (voice of JAMES HONG), Po has recently reunited with his birth father, Li (voice of BRYAN CRANSTON), who has told him of a mystical, magical, secret village of surviving pandas. Once there, he draws the attention of Mei Mei (voice of KATE HUDSON), an exotic dancing panda who's a big flirt. Po comes to believe that only in this remote village hidden away from the rest of the world can he acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to fulfill Oogway's prophecy and best Kai.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
It's a shame someone couldn't have brought together the cast of "Kung Fu Panda 3" for some kind of live-action film. Look at this cast! You have Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman, Oscar winner Angelina Jolie, Oscar winner J.K. Simmons, Emmy and Golden Globe winner Bryan Cranston, and Oscar nominee Kate Hudson. Then, you could fill out your supporting roles with the likes of Lucy Liu, James Hong, and Seth Rogen. Now THAT would be an interesting movie!

As it is, "Kung Fu Panda 3" is perfectly solid, diverting family entertainment with well-drawn characters, involving action, and some nice messages. To be honest, I didn't remember much about the first two "Kung Fu Panda" flicks other than I liked them, my little daughter liked them, and they both made us beastly hungry for Chinese food afterwards. "KP 3" continues that tradition. This might be one of the last in this series my 10- soon to be 11-year-old will want to see with me in preview. Three or four years from now, she'll just be too cool for 'em. But I am sure we will have many o' meals of Vegetable Lo Mein, Shrimp in Lobster Sauce, and wonton soup in our future. And I think we will remember fondly the adventures of Po and the Furious Five.

Jack Black is once again front and center as the voice of the title character, who has saved the kingdom (an alternate-Earth China populated solely by talking animals, birds, and insects) countless times with his fighting friends Tigris (Jolie), Monkey (voice of Jackie Chan), Mantis (Rogen), Viper (Liu), and Crane (David Cross). As the film opens, their mentor Master Shifu (Hoffman) is eager to go on a quest for his own enlightenment before he is too old and turns over the security of the land to Po.

Little does Po know, though, that an ancient evil is about to reemerge from the spirit realm in the form of Kai (Simmons), a yak who angles to steal the "chi" of all the great warriors to become all-powerful himself and rule over the physical world. At the same time, Po has reunited with his long-lost father Li (Cranston), who convinces him to return with him to a secret panda village where he can learn the skills necessary to fulfill his destiny and be the ultimate Dragon Warrior.

Even though this is the third entry in this series, the voice cast, animators, and returning co-directors Jennifer Yuh and Alessandro Carloni do a good job of keeping the threats, the emotions, and the spectacle fresh. I do seem to recall Gary Oldman's villainous peacock in the second "Kung Fu Panda" as being a malevolent, eye-popping delight. Here, Simmons has great fun channeling his more creepy, bad characters like Schillinger from "Oz" and throwing in a little Rodney Dangerfield "I don't get no respect" pathos. He's a formidable baddie, but a humorous one.

Cranston, meanwhile, lends a certain wounded gravitas to Li that is compelling. And Yuh and Carloni bring back perhaps the most beloved character of this franchise, Po's worry-wart, adoptive dad Mr. Ping (Hong), who again provides some much-needed heart to the story. Mr. Ping really loves his son and doesn't want to lose him. At the same time, the character has a sense of honor and shows Li compassion at a key moment in the film that is a nice springboard into the film's third-act climax.

The only issue I have is with the climax. It's kind of been done to death before where a seemingly invincible fighting force runs afoul of a ragtag bunch of resistance fighters hastily trained to use silly, guerilla tactics to prevail. In this case, it's Po training the village of clumsy, overweight pandas to go up against Kai's zombified warriors. Cue the Ewok-lite hijinks.

But it's a tried-and-true formula that works. And it works just enough here for my recommendation. I also recommend Moo Goo Gai Pan and a good Bento box after seeing this. My rating is 6.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed Jan. 16, 2016 / Posted Jan. 29, 2016

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