Ever since Toy Story came out way back in 1995, Pixar have undoubtedly been the studio to beat when it comes to clever and colourful animated features. Over the course of the last decade, however, Dreamworks Animation has slowly but surely proven itself to be stiff competition through franchises such as How To Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda; both of which have managed to replicate Pixar’s successful formula of combining stunning visuals with great storytelling.
Kung Fu Panda 3, the latest and, hopefully, final instalment in the series is another example of Dreamworks’ ever-increasing confidence in their own brand of animated film-making. Having taken five-years to bring this new sequel to cinemas, the amount of work that’s been put into the visuals and narrative is evident from minute one. The film opens in the spirit realm, where master Oogway comes under attack from Kai – voiced wonderfully by Whiplash’s J.K. Simmons – a ‘frenemy’ who has spent the last 500-years in the afterlife collecting the Chi from former kung fu masters. It’s a fantastic opening, not only because of the vibrant, eye-widening visuals of the spirit realm, but because it’s the first hint of closure for the overarching Kung Fu Panda story.
When Kai manages to return to the mortal realm with vengeance on his mind, Po has to learn to master Chi in order to defeat this new threat. Fortunately, just as news of Kai’s return reaches the dragon warrior, his long lost father arrives in the valley to offer his help in training Po how to use Chi. For the first time in his life, Po travels to a secret village filled with Panadas where he must try and discover who he really is, so that he can defeat Kai and save the world.
Much like the previous two films, Kung Fu Panda 3 manages to get the combination of darkness and light, action and comedy, just right. If you’re a fan of the series, this won’t leave you disappointed; it manages to maintain the charm and humour of the previous instalments, as well as its own unmistakeable visual stamp. The animation is stunning, the fight sequences are surprisingly thrilling and, above all else, its spiritual underpinnings are enough to make a grown man tear up.
What I’ve really enjoyed about the movies is the way in which they have developed a wider narrative about Po and his beginnings. What started out as a great gag in the first film, with a Panda believing his father to be a goose, has turned into a plot point that’s absolutely central to and connects all three films. Here, loose ends and questions from the previous instalments are tied up and brought to what feels like a natural conclusion. Impressively, by bringing back characters who haven’t been seen since the first Kung Fu Panda, the writers have brought the story full circle and essentially created what is the perfect ending to a pretty perfect trilogy.
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