"KUNG FU PANDA 3" — 3 stars — voices of J.K. Simmons, Randall Duk Kim, Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Bryan Cranston; PG (martial arts action and some mild rude humor); in general
If you enjoyed the first two Kung Fu Panda movies, chances are you'll like this one, too. “Kung Fu Panda 3” is a stylistic and creative extension of a unique franchise.
The movie opens with an introduction to Kung Fu Panda 3's supernatural protagonist Kai. Voiced by J.K. Simmons, Kai is an imposing, horned beast wielding a pair of jade-bladed knives on chains. Kai is battling Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) in the Spirit Realm, determined to add the kung fu master's chi to his expanding collection. Their battle has raged for 500 years, and Kai has set his sights on conquering the mortal world.
The mortal world is where we find Po (Jack Black), who has grown into his warrior role and is comfortable fending off threats to The Valley. But a new challenge arises when Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffmann) places Po in charge of training new warriors and sharpening the skills of veteran warriors like Tigress (Angelina Jolie) and Monkey (Jackie Chan).
The student has become the teacher, but the teacher doesn't really want to be on the other side of the desk. Luckily, a few stumbles into his new job, Po's attention is diverted when another panda named Li (Bryan Cranston) shows up in search of his long-lost son. Li is Po's father, and a whole community of pandas is waiting to embrace the rotund warrior. So Po journeys with Li to meet them and get a lesson in his roots.
In the meantime, Kai has crossed over from the Spirit Realm and sets about battling (and collecting) Po's friends. Whenever Kai collects a chi, it becomes encased in a jade charm on his belt. Then, in battle, Kai can turn the captured warrior into a jade minion, bent on doing his will.
In order to confront Kai, Po has to enlist his panda family for assistance and take the next step in his growth as a warrior. The new film, co-directed by Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh, sends a nice message balancing the importance of family with the idea that life is a sequence of challenges. No matter how happy we may be in our current comfort zone, we aren't meant to stay put.
The action and story are couched in a generous number of one-liners and visual gags, though the jokes will probably get as many eye rolls as genuine laughs. (Look to the young pandas for the best gags.)
But the most impressive and distinctive element of "Kung Fu Panda 3" is its animation style that combines traditional elements of 3D CGI with 2D elements that display Asian influences. The result is a visually dynamic film that represents the potential of computer animation.
The third installment in the series continues to stack the deck with an impressive cast of voice talent, even if there isn’t quite enough dialogue to go around. In addition to the leads, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu and David Cross return in supporting roles, and Kate Hudson voices Mei Mei, a mild love interest for Po.
Bottom line: “Kung Fu Panda 3” won’t revolutionize the series, but it’s a creative and energetic bit of animation that will give parents a fun option for the kids.
"Kung Fu Panda 3" is rated PG for martial arts action and some mild rude humor; running time: 95 minutes
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.