Sunday, September 11, 2016

Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)

Film: Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)
Stars: Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, JK Simmons, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, Kate Hudson
Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

I actually reread a couple of old reviews of mine before deciding to tackle this installment of the Dreamworks' series Kung Fu Panda just to get a sense of the previous films.  Dreamworks (foolishly, in my opinion), decided to go with a Pixar-level tactic of waiting five years to come out with a new installment to one of their quintessential film franchises, hoping that overall devotion to the series could carry that long.  Considering the gross for the film was down over $100 million from the previous installment, this was probably a foolish decision (Dreamworks Animation has made several of those in the past decade), but I was also curious to read reviews because of my memory of the first two films.  I am not a fan of this animation house-despite 32 feature films, most of which I've seen, I have only really liked three of the movies they've produced, two of which of are in this series (the other being the first How to Train Your Dragon).  Revisiting what may well be the final film in the trilogy (at least I'm hoping that's the case considering how it closes) felt like a weird rush for a trio of films I initially wrote off before actually watching them and being impressed.

(Spoilers Ahead) I think there's a few reasons to really enjoy the Kung Fu Panda pictures, but one of the chief ones is that they're genuinely funny.  Jack Black is an actor of somewhat limited means, but he's a compelling onscreen presence and when he finds a role that suits him, like Po, he nails it against the wall.  Po is hilarious, albeit a character whose eventual journey to being the Dragon Master is a bit hard to follow if you hadn't immediately seen the two previous films.  I never quite know what the rules are for sequels in rehashing "scenes from the previous episode," but I will say that I felt a little lost for the first fifteen minutes or so trying to remember what had happened in the previous episode, and specifically if JK Simmons' Kai (an evil yak, because of course), was a new villain or a villain from a previous installment that I'd just misplaced in my memory.  He was, in fact, new, though here I feel like the franchise dropped the ball a bit, as no one was going to live up to Gary Oldman's evil peacock from the second installment of the series (that was a joyous creation).

The film does succeed in a number of great visual gags, though.  The fights here are some of the best I've seen in the series, and truly marvelous to behold.  The film also does a good job of balancing Po's increasing seriousness with his natural comic persona (this is, after all, still a children's movie and never had the gravitas to be able to pull off what Pixar did during it's 2007-10 Golden Age)-the scene where Po must decide whether to return to the mortal realm or not is one where the adults get what he's deciding, but for the kids it still has the playfulness where it's a panda talking to a turtle.

All-in-all, no new ground is broken here and I maintain that the second film is still the best part of the series, but there's a lot to love in this installment.  I genuinely liked most of the scenes, and felt like the movies continued to find a cultivated and strong supporting cast of players (something Dreamworks does well), except in one very obvious case: Kate Hudson's Mei Mei.  I know the story behind this part, clearly intended to be a love interest for Po that got lost in storyboarding, and originally Rebel Wilson, whose comic skills match Black's, was scheduled to play the part and then (due to scheduling conflicts) had to drop out and Hudson filled in at the last minute.  This ends up being a disaster, as her first scene feels strange (is she just a woman who is blinded by her lack of talent or is she just seducing Po-it's very hard to say?), and then she has almost no interactions onscreen with Po, but gets a ridiculously over-the-top line reading at a critically-emotional scene later on in the film where she said she was a "nunchuck chick" and yet we haven't hearkened back to her at all since her first blustery scene.  It's a badly edited choice by the directors, one where they probably should have cut her storyline entirely from the film but didn't know how to (and probably were trying to set up a potential sequel for the studio's sake), but Hudson is badly underwritten and miscast, and it wears on those scenes of the movie in a jarring way (it's the first thing I thought of wanting to write about prior to this review...never a good sign for a film I actually liked).

Those are my thoughts on (what I'm hoping, in terms of story structure) is the final Kung Fu Panda film, and by-and-large it was a successful trilogy in my opinion.  How about you?  Which is your favorite (as I mentioned above, mine's the second) and where does this rank on your Dreamworks' animation list?  Do you also feel like Rebel Wilson could have saved Mei Mei or was this simply a character without redemption?  Share your thoughts below!

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