It is eight years since we were introduced to the large and jovial Panda, Po. He delighted audiences all round the world, he and his extended family, with some action and adventures and drawing on some Eastern aspects of martial arts as well as religious reflection. Three years later, he and his friends all returned for another comedy and action about.
There must be a great number of fans of the Kung Fu Panda out there, children eager to see him again – and children who are now older but still have fond memories. They will not be disappointed with this third time round.
By this stage, Po is fairly well established and well respected in his community. However, he is away from his village and, to his surprise and delight, his father comes to visit and takes them back to the village full of pandas – quite a comic lot. That would be enjoyable in itself, with lots of comic touches and, especially, with a rather large cast of celebrity voices who are all back again, Dustin Hoffman as Mr Shifu the tiny instructor, Angelina Jolie Lee as the tigress, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, James Hong, Jackie Chan…
But, of course, this would not be a Kung Fu Panda entertainment without some battlelines being drawn. The mystic Oogway returns and is confronted by the villain Kai whom he had conquered and confined to the other world 500 years earlier. This monstrous type, resembling a giant and sinister ox, is determined to take over the whole world. Kai has in his power, minute green creatures whom he carries on his belt, the forces whom he has subdued – and he proceeds to subdue a whole lot of creatures from the village, including Mr Shifu, turning them all green, depriving them of their personalities and making them all fighting machines.
Po, of course, has to confront this sinister and powerful enemy, supported by his family and friends in the village, although discovering that his father has rather exaggerated his own powers.
For those who enjoy the battles, they are extraordinarily choreographed, exciting for the younger audiences (though Kai is particularly fierce, looming and frightening perhaps for the very young). Adult audiences who admire the skills of animation (done in the United States, in China and in India) will be captivated by the extraordinary detail of action and movement.
While Po is a valiant warrior on his own, he is in danger of defeat unless his father and the whole village combine with each other, eliciting their inner Chi, turning their combined energy and force on Kai. Po is a delighted victor but faces the question of whether he stays in eternity or returns to his family. Really, no question at all.
Jack Black is back with his comic energy as Po, and J.K. Simmons is truly a sinister Kai.
And, with the atmosphere of eastern mysticism, the exercise of inner Chi, complimentary forces in Yin and Yang, and the strength of the inner self, the film ends with an exuberant dance of life.
Review by the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting