It may serve up exactly the same mix of mayhem, noodles and dumplings as the first two films in the series, but Kung Fu Panda 3 is still energetic and wildly entertaining fare. You can't help but admire the skill with which the Hollywood and Chinese elements are blended, and the sure-footed way that the martial arts and the slapstick are combined.
Jack Black again voices Po, the cuddly and hapless hero, in breathlessly enthusiastic fashion. This time, he is pitted against the vengeful Kai (voiced by the Whiplash Oscar-winner JK Simmons), a bull-headed, strangely conceited and emotionally insecure warrior who has returned from the spirit realm to steal the "chi" (the mojo) of every creature he can find.
It's up to Po to save the world. The twist here is that he is not only warrior but his guru, the Yoda-like Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), has made him teacher.
There's family drama to negotiate. Po already has one (adopted) father in the shape of Mr Ping (voiced by James Hong), the goose, but when his real dad Li Chan (Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston) turns up, the poor panda is more bewildered than ever. Li Chan looks like him, sounds like him and eats even more dumplings than he does… but does that really mean that they might be related?
The storyline isn't especially original. Certain plot elements and some of the characters owe a very direct debt to Star Wars. Some of the puns are a bit on the feeble side: when there is talk of justice being served, Po immediately orders two justice platters.
What lifts the film is not just its high-kicking fight sequences, but the sharpness of the writing (by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger), the vibrant animation and the sheer, good-natured relish and gusto with which the film-makers attack their material.
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