I have to admit the Kung Fu Panda took me be surprise when I first saw it. It was a typical story of a complete underdog who must overcome obstacles, kind of like Rocky and The Karate Kid. The only difference is that it is done with a computer-generated panda in an interesting and fantastical anthropomorphic world.
The issue with the first film is that it was self-aware. It seemed to know that it was following in the footsteps of these films, and knew that it wasn’t really offering anything too new to the table. The issue is that Jack Black had become an A-list star, and it was interesting to see him in a role that appeared to be written with him in mind.
The second film in the series was even better than the first. Not only that, it featured a very dramatic turn as Po’s origins were revealed. Not only that, Gary Oldman was a terrific and multi-faceted villain as Shen.
This is always the blessing of making a better sequel, as it becomes a curse to have a third. Kung Fu Panda was sadly not able to overcome this curse, and it produced a third film that wasn’t really very good. It is at worst mediocre, but in comparison to the second film, it is downright horrific.
The plot to this film had some potential. It starts off in the spirit world, which is this odd place where land floats, and the inhabitants are capable of superhuman feats. It is here where we are introduced to Kai, a yak (of buffalo, I’m not sure), who is trying to defeat Master Oogway, the wise turtle mentor who died in the first movie. Kai needs to take Oogway’s chi (or life energy, but that is an over-simplification) to get into the material world, and he does.
So it is interesting that Po is being set up with a supernatural foe for the first time. There has always been kind of a mystical element to these films, but Kai certainly is Po’s most powerful enemy.
There is also an issue of Po becoming a teacher. This is some odd order from Shifu, who steps out of the picture so Po can take command. Po then goes into fail-mode, as his teaching somehow cause the Furious Five to botch everything.
At that point, I realized what was wrong with the movie. The jokes within are simply not funny. The other films were at least clever with its dialogue and action, but this film felt…lazy. I honestly believe that there is a good idea for a film here with Kai and Po becoming a teacher, but it feels like the writers thought they had it on the first draft.
To the film’s credit, the third film attempted to tie-in the second by showing Po’s father somehow sensing his son is alive. There is an actually explanation for it, but Po’s father is sadly slowing down the film. There is a very good scene where Po and his father Li discuss the mother, and it is pretty heartfelt.
Sadly, Kung Fu Panda 3 suffers from hard-core sequel fatigue, and it would be smart to either discontinue the franchise or make a fourth one that really rocks, but that could be a tall order.