“Kung Fu Panda 3” carries its own weight

“The weight is over,” now that “Kung Fu Panda 3,” the third installment of one of the most successful animated franchises, has kicked and punched its way to theaters, delighting families while still proving the time-tested truth that a sequel can never outdo the original.

Po (Jack Black) begins a new adventure as the Kung Fu master is reunited with his long-lost panda father, Li (Bryan Cranston). But when a new supernatural villain, Kai (J.K. Simmons), grows more powerful, threatening Po’s friends and family, the overweight hero must reconnect with his panda roots in order to gain control of his chi and save China.

Though its storyline pales in comparison to the creativity of the first movie, or for that matter the emotion of the second, the third film entertains audiences with cute dialogue and stunning animation that crosses Chinese style art with modern animation techniques. In fact, “Kung Fu Panda 3” is one of the few recently released films where 3D improves the viewing experience because the animation makes brilliant use of both movement and color.

However, the adorable dumpling-eating pandas and phenomenal animation cannot completely detract from some of the faults of the film. For instance, the writers attempt to introduce a love interest in Mei Mei the ribbon-twirling panda, voiced by Kate Hudson, yet she and Po do not share more than four minutes of dialogue, and nothing is ever resolved between them.

In general, both old and new characters are not used to their full potential, but simply used as background to Po’s typical, bumbling naïveté. Yet, in a film that centers on the question “Who am I?” it is less necessary for Po to be concerned with other characters, including the villain.

Kai’s motivation for becoming evil is rather weak, and he is not as strong, ruthless and cunning as the villains from the first two movies. He is a flat character, and though his presence brings a supernatural aspect to the story, he is just not a credible threat.

Though Kai is not a fearful antagonist, the final showdown between the chubby dragon warrior and Kai is the most visually dynamic aspect of the movie and brings together the harmony of heart and comedy seen in all three films.

If this is indeed the final film, which I believe it should be, the finale does an excellent job carrying its weight in the massive franchise.

-Delaney King