By: Muneeb Arshid
We reviewed an animation last week that was deliberately targeted towards an 18+ audience in Anomalisa. Now, we review a more typical animation that is instead geared towards the youngsters of the family. Kung Fu Panda 3 is the next adventure of the Dragon Warrior panda, Po, along with his kung fu expert friends.
If you’ve seen the previous installments, as I did the week before I watched the newest rendition, Panda 3 will be nothing groundbreaking in terms of the kung fu animation from Dreamworks Animation. However, just like its predecessors, it is a film that is very charming, with characters you genuinely enjoy watching and with a surprisingly deep story that works for both kids and adults.
One of the great things about this series has been the voice cast, a cast that is a who’s who of Hollywood actors. With each film in the series, they have added to the regular cast with new members such as the great Gary Oldman in Kung Fu Panda 2; they haven’t held back for this installment with the very distinctive J.K. Simmons as Kai and Bryan Cranston as the big, fat panda Li. They join the regular cast which included the returning Angelina Jolie (Tigress), the very under-utilized Jackie Chan (Monkey), Seth Rogen (Mantis), Lucy Liu (Viper), David Cross (Crane) and Jack Black in the role of the Dragon Warrior, Po.
The story of the latest addition is nothing revolutionary in terms of Po’s adventure in the film. The overall outline of the story is very similar to the story in the series previous installment. The movie begins with Po training with his new (now old!) friends in the Furious Five. It then progresses to a conflict with his (goose) dad, then moves to a conflict in a far flung place that the Furious Five + Po are tasked with resolving. Interlaced within all this are the zen teachings by Master Shifu (voiced by the great Dustin Hoffman), which he tries to teach Po, who of course doesn’t initially understand the wisdom behind Shifu’s words. However, both Panda 2 and 3 conclude with Po mastering the teaching from Master Shifu and utilizing them against the antagonists of the film. The story has not been the strongest suit of this series, with the best and the funniest story being the first installment. However, it’s the characters and their interactions with each other and the building of each and every character that helps the Kung Fu Panda series distinguish itself from other animations.
The other aspect that has been so great about this series, which harkens back to my review of Anomalisa, is how animations are perceived as a success critically. Many a time, animations cannot be considered successful solely because of their animation or their story. Nowadays with the ever improving technology, animations will not get favourable reviews a la The Good Dinosaur. You have to look at films from Studio Ghibli or Pixar favourites such as the Toy Story series, or more recently, Up or Inside Out to get a sense of why animations are a success. These films all share the common thread of having an underlying theme where the protagonists have their own personal issues that will tend to resonate with the adult audience but can be perceived in a decidedly different (for the good!) way for the younger audience. With Inside Out in 2015, there was a film that quickly became a hit with the kids because of the characters and the story of redemption. The underlying theme for the kids, however, especially those that had experienced what the film’s star Riley went through was the fact that it can be hard to move to a new place and leave everything behind. The film did a great job showing how a child’s mind can literally turn itself off when they have left a familiar locale for a new home that may not be very “home-y” to them. The adults, on the other hand, would’ve felt the same experience as Riley’s parents and how they had to deal with a child who was in a constant state of depression and loneliness within herself. Kung Fu Panda is somewhat similar, not that it dealt with such hard-hitting material, but rather for containing an underlying message at all. With these last two films, there has been the message of Yin and Yang and the message of peace. The other message, which is quite apparent, is the fact that the series really has done a great job in creating a sense that “you can do whatever you put your mind to”, by showing us this seemingly lazy panda become the hero for his entire village by putting in the requisite effort. Of course, not every child will become a Kung Fu Master, but it gives kids the understanding that regardless of what they may perceive of themselves, there is always ample opportunity to do anything that they want to, regardless of what others might think.
Finally, comments must be made on the animation of the film because it is… well… an animation. The animation seems to be a melding of both digital animation with hand-drawn animation, or so it seemed to me. However, regardless of which mode of animation was used for each scene, the hard work that was put in is very apparent and the quality absolutely exudes from every pore of the film. Dreamworks has really put themselves out there with their unique work with the Kung Fu Panda series but as well with other animated films such as How to Train your Dragon (2). The uniqueness of the animation complements the setting of the film very well. The darker colour palate that was used in both Dragon films complemented the Scandinavian setting and the lighter colour palate in Kung Fu Panda complements the setting of the film in Asia.
Combined with the cinematography and animation of the film, the score and music are also beautiful supplements to not only the setting of the film but also to the different characters and their interactions at different points during the film. The music has a very classical tone to it that is not only soothing to listen to while you watch the film but also adds to the film emotionally in a way that even though emotion may be coerced from the audience, it is never overbearing at any point; rather, it is quite pleasant to listen to.
All in all, Kung Fu Panda 3 is another very solid addition to the Panda films and provides great fun for both children and adults alike. The story may just be a rehash of the most recent installment in the series, but the consistency that the series has had with their voice actors has helped the series maintain its reputation as one of the better mainstream animations out there today. Kung Fu Panda 3 gets a grade of B+ (8.1/10).