By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The 2008 original, Kung Fu Panda, was amazing, a fast, fierce, and funny animated-adventure blockbuster that was a real kung fu flick that just happened to be animated.

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The first sequel, 2011’s Kung Fu Panda 2, couldn’t quite compare to its predecessor but was nonetheless charming and spirited, a superior entertainment.

The third go-round, Kung Fu Panda 3, carries on the tradition in fine fashion despite a dash of sequelitis that reminds us of the freshness that the first film had, never to be completely duplicated.

 

(3 stars out of 4)

(3 stars out of 4)

 

Jack Black returns, giving voice and lending aspects of his paunchy persona to Po the Panda, now the prophecy-fulfilling Dragon Warrior in the Valley of Peace in ancient China who gets to be among other pandas for the first time.

Also back are Po’s mentor, diminutive Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), from whom Po has taken over teaching duties; Mr. Ping (James Hong), Mr. Po’s adoptive goose father; and the Furious Five exhibiting a quintet of fighting styles: Tigress (Angelina Jolie Pitt), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Crane (David Cross), Mantis (Seth Rogen), and Viper (Lucy Liu) – although there’s precious little for the Furious Five to do this trip.

Instead, three newcomers to the project offer invaluable contributions: Bryan Cranston as panda Li, Po’s long-lost biological father, with whom Po is reunited; J.K. Simmons as villainous bull Kai, intent on stealing the power of China’s kung fu masters; and Kate Hudson as Mei Mei, a charming ribbon-dancing panda who catches Po’s eye.

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First-time directors John Stevenson and Mark Osborne offer visual inventiveness, striking landscapes, and considerable giggles for young and old, compliments of the witty, upbeat script by third-timers Jonathan Aibel and Glen Bergeras that combines energetic action and goofy humor in a winning way, and that is serious-minded without taking itself overly seriously.

There is, of course, another chase-your-dreams message for the kids, but themes of perseverance and identity are explored as well. And they’re accompanied by tributes to martial arts-celebrating genre classics such as Crouching Tigers, Hidden Dragon and Hero for the purists.

This well-made sequel is another splendid skirmish between the art of animation and the martial arts, a mix of humor, action, and theme that you might think of as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Panda.

It seems unlikely that this trilogy capper will be the final hurrah for this franchise and that’s good news all around.

So we’ll master 3 stars out of 4 for Kung Fu Panda 3, a charming sequel that’s the equal of the prequel and that makes its case without ever having to panda to the kids.

 

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