The opening “scene” of “Kung Fu Panda 3” has portly hero Po trotting up terrace after terrace of stairs, gasping for breath until he reaches a spot where he can jump onto the crescent moon and whip out his fishing pole.
It’s a cute, beautifully animated way of getting that Dreamworks Animation logo into the film. But it’s also an apt description of the cartoon that follows — winded, out of breath and out of ideas.
The animation here is a striking and colorful mimicry of Hong Kong “chop socky” (martial arts action) pictures. But the story is a bit of a retread and the spark and humor just aren’t there.
Everybody from the voice cast is back — Jack Black as Po, Dustin Hoffman as his mentor, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan and David Cross “The Five” animal warriors of Po’s team.
Bringing in Oscar winner J.K. Simmons to voice the villain and Oscar nominee Bryan Cranston to play Po’s long, lost Panda pop is overkill, but works well enough. They just don’t have much that’s funny to say.
The new villain, a bull-being named Kai, is stealing the “chi” of all the great kung fu masters of China, entombing them in jade medallions which he can use to round the surviving masters up.
Po discovers his long lost father (Cranston) and is sent off to a secret village of pandas to master his panda chi for the big fight ahead. His goose of a stepdad (James Wong) comes along as Po learns to tumble and roll down hills and master overeating with his fellow cuddly critters. That’s what pandas do. But he will have to train these tubbos to be his army to fight Kai when the time comes.
If you’re looking for some metaphor about obese and happy America being roused to action by Po’s self-help/child-affirmation aphorisms, you’re trying too hard. But so is the movie. This is a cartoon more bent on teaching than entertaining.
“Before the battle of the fist comes the battle of the mind.”
“If you only do what you can, you will never be more than you are now.”
“There is always something more to learn.”
The almost funny bits come from the villain’s lack of notoriety and infamy, despite Kai’s tireless self-promotion as “the Jade Slayer,” “Maker of Widows” and such.
But taken as a whole, “Kung Fu Panda 3” plays as a franchise out of ideas, out of jokes and more naked about its real place in the film firmament –as panda pandering to the enormous Chinese movie market.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for martial arts action and some mild rude humor
Cast: The voices of Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Dustin Hoffman, Bryan Cranston, J.K. Simmons, James Hong
Credits: Directed by Alessandro Carloni, Jennifer Yuh, script by Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger. A Dreamworks/20th Century Fox release.
Running time: 1:35