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There Are More Pandas But Less Sense in Kung Fu Panda 3

This latest effort in the franchise seems designed simply to meet fan expectations rather than try something new.
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Perhaps it’s fitting that Kung Fu Panda 3 is the cinematic equivalent of a fortune cookie. Beneath a tasty exterior, all you get is a trite saying and some losing lottery numbers.

Indeed, there’s plenty to admire in the presentation of this moderately charming third installment in the animated comedy franchise, but not much at the script level to offer any meaningful advancement of the series of its characters.

The story again follows Po (voiced by Jack Black), the bumbling but fun-loving martial-arts panda who returns along with his mentor Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and his gang of warrior sidekicks. In this adventure, Po is visited by his long-lost father (Bryan Cranston), which leads to their mutual discovery of a hidden kingdom of pandas.

Conflict comes, however, with the arrival of a bull named Kai (J.K. Simmons), whose villainy includes trying to defeat all of the kung-fu masters in China. Naturally, Po is tabbed to save the day, as he turns from student to teacher in training all of his new panda colleagues.

Animation buffs can appreciate the 3D visuals — which are richly detailed both in terms of backgrounds and character details — as well as the effort to mix styles, with a handful of flashbacks and fantasy sequences rendered with more traditional 2D techniques.

Children might respond favorably to the fast-paced animal antics, even if the characters and their shtick are familiar by now. As with the prior installments, the strategy of directors Jennifer Yuh Nelson (who also directed the previous sequel) and newcomer Alessandro Carloni is to cram as much mayhem as possible into every frame, whether it’s slapstick sight gags or rapid-fire one-liners.

Maybe that’s an attempt to compensate for the uninspired screenplay, which seems as though it would be a better fit in an episode of the television spinoff of the original Kung Fu Panda film. There are some scattered laughs amid all the action — due in large part to Black’s infectious enthusiasm — yet Po’s emotional journey of family bonding and self-discovery seems like a formulaic time-waster in preparation for the obligatory final showdown.

At any rate, despite a couple of quirky new characters, the series has lost its freshness by now. This latest effort seems designed simply to meet fan expectations rather than try something new.

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