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Family Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda 3 (PG)

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MPAA Rating: PG        Length: 95 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 6+. This latest installment of the ‘Kung Fu Panda’ franchise is in line with the other two films in terms of content: various scenes of cartoon violence of the martial arts variety, characters are transformed into jade zombies, characters visit an alternate world that is essentially treated as the afterlife, discussions of characters’ deaths, some flirting, and some bathroom humor, like a goose popping out eggs in fear.

‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ revisits the same themes as its predecessors, with questions about identity and self-expression. But that familiarity doesn’t lessen the film’s emotional impact and solid laughs.

By Roxana Hadadi

Jack Black had a good thing last year with “Goosebumps,” and he does well again with “Kung Fu Panda 3.” As the titular Po, Black delivers the kind of wonder, curiosity, and enthusiasm we’ve enjoyed with “Kung Fu Panda” and “Kung Fu Panda 2,” and although this film isn’t really different from its predecessors, it’s emotionally impactful enough and beautifully animated enough that the familiarity isn’t really a flaw.

The “Kung Fu Panda” franchise has always been, intentionally and profoundly, about identity—about who we are, where we come from, and who we choose to be. “Kung Fu Panda 2,” in particular, explored Po’s backstory and his version of family in a way that was relatable and sympathetic to viewers, especially those whose relatives and loved ones may not look exactly the same as they do. A goose being the adoptive father of a panda can send some powerful themes about love and acceptance, you know?

And those themes continue in “Kung Fu Panda 3,” which like its predecessors introduces a new villain to inspire Po to grapple with ideas of who he is and who he wants to be. “Kung Fu Panda 3” sees Po and his friends the Furious Five defending their home, the Valley of Peace, and generally being awesome, adored by the citizens they’re protecting and indulging often in the noodles and dumplings Po’s father Mr. Ping (voiced by James Hong, of “R.I.P.D.”) cooks for them. But their dynamic changes when Master Shifu (voiced by Dustin Hoffman, of “The Cobbler”) announces his retirement and that he is naming Po as the new teacher of the Furious Five—a role that terrifies Po.

How can he teach these kung fu masters, who inspired him with their skill and prowess before he was named the Dragon Warrior? Things get more complicated when Po’s biological father, Li (voiced by Bryan Cranston, of “Godzilla”) shows up, and when a new bad guy, Kai (voiced by J. K. Simmons, of “Terminator Genisys”) arrives in the Valley of Peace.

A former friend of Master Oogway (voiced by Randall Duk Kim), who named Po as the Dragon Warrior, Kai has returned from the spirit realm to exact his revenge for being banished so many years ago. He’s immensely powerful, but according to Li, there is a secret village of pandas living in the mountains who can help Po discover who he is and reach his true potential. If Po wants to defeat Kai and save the Valley of Peace, he needs to go with Li—a development that not only hurts Mr. Ping, who has considered Po his son for so many years, but confuses Po, who wonders who he really is once he realizes he’s not the only panda in the world.

All of this sounds familiar, right? But what “Kung Fu Panda 3” does so well is reach the same kind of emotional poignancy that “Kung Fu Panda 2” did, which was exceptional in its depiction of Po’s and Mr. Ping’s father-son relationship. There are more messages here about the importance of family of all kinds and the relationships we choose to prioritize and pursue, and it will be hard not tear up when you see how Mr. Ping and Li bond over their love of Po. It’s sincerely touching stuff.

And it’s not just the emotional resonance that “Kung Fu Panda 3” gets right; the animation here, and especially the 3D effects, are exceptional. The action scenes are fluidly, impressively rendered; the colors are gorgeous, especially in the golden and green spirit realm; and the 3D is well-used throughout, adding depth and visual spectacle.

Sure, at this point, we’ve sat through nearly six hours of Po wondering who he is throughout the “Kung Fu Panda” franchise. But when “Kung Fu Panda 3” makes that question feel new again and delivers it in such a beautifully imagined way, it’s worth it to go down that road of self-discovery one more time.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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