Bulletproof is the best way to describe the Kung Fu Panda series. If any in the series is lacking in depth, character development or plot then at least there are lot of shiny colors and hyper-induced action. But if there happens to be an abundance of heart, then it makes the onslaught of visuals seem less like a guilty pleasure. Either way, there’s nothing you can’t at least sort of enjoy.
The third entry in the adventures of the rotund, fluffy Po the panda (Jack Black) falls more into the category of the former. The colors, visuals and sight gags act as a 90-minute sugar-rush/epic acid-trip with talking animals that do kung-fu. There’s not much else, but it’s fun while it lasts.
This time, Po yet again encounters something in the realm of kung-fu that he thinks he can’t master because he’s too plump and goofy, but then in the end realizes he can if he just believes in himself. He then defeats the over-powered bad guy with little-to-no effort and balance is restored. I summed up the story in about three seconds and that’s probably how long it took the screenwriters to write the story. The other five years it took to get this to the big screen was clearly spent on the aforementioned pretty colors.
Granted, it was time well spent. The opening scene in a spirit realm is full of bombastic set pieces and sweeping detail, which are then matched as the movie proceeds through gorgeous landscape shots bursting with vivid blue and green palates. On a smaller scale, the close-ups of all these adorable yet dangerous animals are brimming with plushness. You just want reach out and hug them and then turn them into teddy bears. If this isn’t the best Panda movie it certainly is the most gorgeous.
However, another word would be distracting. Once you’re brought back down to reality and begin to analyze the characters and story it becomes apparent that the first 60 of 90 minutes is just a bunch of cuddly animals making fun of themselves, banging into stuff, making goofy faces and banging into more stuff.
It’s meant to come off as a true test for Po, trying to discover himself after his long-lost father finds him and takes him back to his long-lost village and discovers his long-lost roots of being a panda—which means eating a lot and being silly. Even in the end, when Po teaches the village of Pandas to fight back against evil, he tells them to embrace their goofiness and extra poundage so as to win the day. It’s not a bad message, being yourself and all. It would’ve been better, though, if it wasn’t a major plot-point born out slapstick instead of genuine emotion. There’s even an attempt to give Po a love interest, but the people who made the movie clearly felt her time was best spend being immensely odd and making funny noises.
Not to say the simple humor and dopey characters aren’t fun. The Panda series does slapstick better than any other in the genre, and the all-star voice cast including Black, Bryan Cranston, J.K. Simmons, Kate Hudson, Angelina Jolie and more are totally game to embrace the humor. It’s infectious, like jumping in a bouncy castle. At first you tell yourself you’re just doing it for your kids, but then you get really into it and start knocking all the other kids down pretending you’re the Hulk crashing through buildings.
There’s a lot to love about Panda 3, like the stunning visuals and physical comedy, but that’s just because there’s so much of those things. It’s overflowing with them so much it’s easy to forget it’s not really a good movie as most good movies are measured. The kids will love it…as well as the grown children who refuse to accept adulthood and pay taxes.