Skadoosh! Po and the Furious Five return for a third instalment of badass ass-kickery in Dreamworks' new animation, Kung Fu Panda 3.
The Kung Fu Panda series has never been as critically-acclaimed as Dreamworks' more mature releases like How To Train Your Dragon, but I'll be honest - it's always been one of my favourite things they've ever done. The first film is tight, fast fun that mixes clever humour with a stunning art style, and the sequel continues this trend by matching it for quality and entertainment value.
When I heard that they were bringing a third entry to the franchise, it was like music to my ears. But, with five years separating films two and three, does the series still have the same sense of fun, freshness and vigour that it did back in 2011?
In short, yes. Kung Fu Panda 3 is a really great film that stays true to the proceeding films whilst advancing the narrative and holding onto the rich colour palette and animation that the series is known for. It's not quite as good as the first and second films, but that's more down to how great they were to begin with than how poor this entry is - when you reach film three in a family franchise such as this, it's hard to reinvent or surprise the audience with something drastically different.
In this film, Po (Jack Black) is now a fully-fledged kung-fu master serving alongside Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and the Furious Five - Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), Mantis (Seth Rogen) and Crane (David Cross) - in the Jade Palace. Their mandate remains to defend the valley from evil and wrongdoing, so when the villainous Kai (JK Simmons) returns from the Spirit Realm, it's up to Po to put into practice everything he has learnt to save the day once again.
Also thrown into the mix is Po's long-lost father, Li (Bryan Cranston). Li tells Po that there is a secret panda village in the mountains where he can teach him how to master chi, the same power that Kai hopes to steal from every kung-fu master in China - including Shifu, Po and the Furious Five.
Kung Fu Panda 3 follows a similar template for animated sequels; the script doesn't waste time with setup and it plunges right back into the thick of it. It doesn't feel like we've been away for long as Po and the gang leap back into action. It introduces a batch of new characters, including Mei Mei (Kate Hudson), a panda love interest for Po to ogle at, as well as sticking to an established format; just like Po had to learn kung-fu and inner peace in the proceeding films, here it is chi that eludes our hero's repertoire.
The film carries a nice message for youngsters - it's important to be yourself, not someone you're not - and the brisk pace and rapid-fire action is guaranteed to keep young minds engaged and eyes glued to the screen for the 90 minute runtime. It isn't grating on older audiences either; this isn't the kind of film that will have parents glazing over in the first five minutes.
You get the sense that the series is running on borrowed time in parts, and the core supporting cast aren't given as much to do this time around, but Kung Fu Panda 3 is still a fun time all things considered. The voice acting is top notch, with Cranston and Simmons making for great additions to the cast.
The Verdict: 8/10
If this is the final Kung Fu Panda film that Dreamworks decide to make then they've left the series in good shape. The characters are as funny as ever and the gorgeous 3D animation leaps from the screen. Franchise fatigue creeps through the cracks in places, but on the whole this is one trilogy that hasn't outstayed its welcome.
Kung Fu Panda 3 is in cinemas across Australia now.