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By: Joe Jodoin

It has been eight years since the original Kung-Fu Panda was released, but now we finally have the complete trilogy. Kung-Fu Panda 3 works really well as a closing chapter to the character arc of Po the panda, but it underwhelms in terms of bringing any new ideas to the franchise. This is an easy movie to review, because it is exactly on par with its predecessor. If you liked Kung-Fu Panda 2, you will like this one just as much, but if you find these movies a little too childish for your taste, then the third iteration will not sway your opinion.

Story wise, Kung-Fu Panda 3 does not break any new ground and it is significantly similar to the first two movies. The villain this time around is voiced perfectly by J.K. Simmons, and is motivated to collect the “Chi” of all the kung-fu masters. For some reason (which is not fully explained), Po can only defeat him by learning how to use his own “Chi.” A new side plot involving Po’s biological father (voiced by Bryan Cranston) and Po training a panda army of his own provides much needed relief from the weak villain arc, but it still feels like a very conventional and familiar story. It’s also a little odd how the theme of Po’s coming of age is still the driving force behind his character arc, since this theme was the same for the past two films.

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Where this movie really shines is in the visuals. The animation is gorgeous and colorful, in a way that is not only super absorbing for children, but also impressive to adults as well. The action scenes in particular looked amazing, and the fluidity of the character movements and choreography of the battles add up to some outstanding set pieces. There definitely could have been much more action, as every fight scene felt cut short or slightly underwhelming when it finished. I respect that the filmmakers were trying to focus more on story and character development, but for a movie called Kung-Fu Panda, there was not nearly enough kung-fu.

The fast pace of the movie works as both a strength and a weakness. First of all, it keeps viewers interested and constantly entertained. There are no scenes that felt like they didn’t need to be there, and no jokes that should have been cut out. This makes the movie feel lean and to-the-point, which was quite welcome. However, it is hard to become emotionally invested in what is happening, and it also makes some characters, like the villain, feel one-dimensional and forgettable. There is a sub-plot involving Po’s adopted father coming to terms with his son reconnecting with his biological father, but while this could have been deep and emotional, it was quickly glossed over. The short length of the movie — the whole movie is less than an hour and a half long — hurts its potential for more complex storytelling.

Overall, Kung-Fu Panda 3 is an entertaining and fun diversion, but it lacks the depth and originality that the best animated films possess.

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