As you may recall, or as you may have looked up on Wikipedia just now to refresh your memory, “Kung Fu Panda 2” ended with the revelation that Po (Jack Black) was not the only panda left, and that his real father was living in a secret village full of them. “Kung Fu Panda 3” takes it from there, adding another energetic chapter to the story while also reminding us of the law of diminishing returns.
Po’s father, Li (Bryan Cranston), proves to be as cuddly, upbeat, and hungry as Po is. Indeed, these qualities are intrinsic in the entire panda species, which was evidently modeled on Homer Simpson. Po’s adoptive goose father, Mr. Ping (James Hong), is skeptical of the newcomer — where’s he been all this time, huh? — but there are other concerns. An ancient villain named Kai (J.K. Simmons), who’s some kind of ox or something, has returned to the living world from the great beyond to steal the chi from Po and each of his cohorts so that he can, I don’t know, rule the world, or make a big chi casserole, or whatever.
Meanwhile, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), the red panda who oversees the avengers known as the Furious Five, has turned the master’s reins over to Po. Nobody knows why, especially Po, who doesn’t feel that he’s good at teaching (he is correct). He was always the fluke in this group, not as ferociously skilled as Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), Mantis (Seth Rogen), or Crane (David Cross). (He’s not even technically IN the group, since they didn’t change their name to Furious Six.) But Po is the prophesied Dragon Warrior, so he must be special.
Written by series veterans Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, and directed by returning Jennifer Yuh and animator Alessandro Carloni, the film is about discovering who you are and living up to your potential — you know, the usual. It’s fun to see Po interacting with other pandas, especially as the climax gives them an opportunity to use their special panda talents — eating, hugging, rolling around, etc. — to defeat Kai and his army of supernatural zombies. Kai is a good villain, with an amusing recurring joke about how he’s not as legendary as he thought he was. Jokes about how much Po likes to eat continue to be tiresome, as they have been since halfway through the first movie.
The battle sequences are excellent, as usual, with superior use of 3D and an obvious directive to make the action as clear and easy to follow as possible. But the rest feels ordinary and, despite the five-year gap since the last movie, underdeveloped. (They added Kate Hudson to the cast as a ribbon-twirling panda dancer, then gave the character nothing to do.) We’ve reached the point, somewhat prematurely, that comes in almost every movie franchise, where the sequels start to feel like episodes.
C+ (1 hr., 35 min.; )