(In French, Video on-Demand, September 2016) I wish I had something insightful or interesting to say about Kung Fu Panda 3, but as it turns out the third instalment of this series doesn’t feel any different from the first two ones. Here, once again, we have our Panda hero getting a bit better, inspiring others and vanquishing a terrible danger. Fat jokes included. But I’ve never been able to warm up to the mildly annoying protagonist of the series, and I don’t find its central world building to be all that interesting. None are bad movies—they just don’t happen to catch my interest. Whatever nice things I have to say about Kung Fu Panda 3 aren’t particularly specific to the film itself: The animation is often beautiful (especially those set in the Spirit Realm), the individual gags often succeed and the pacing is fast enough that there isn’t much time to be bored. The kids will like it, and that’s pretty much the bottom line for any contemporary computer-animated films. I’m not particularly interested in a fourth instalment in the series, but I’ll probably watch it when it’s available. Sometimes I wonder if I should just wait until I’m in a better mood, watch the entire series back-to-back and see if my opinion of it improves.
(On TV, January 2015) I wish I had something substantial to say about this film… but I don’t. It’s a certainly follow-up to the original, and its best quality is how it manages to incorporate more of the “Furious Five” group in the story as opposed to an all-Panda show. (Angelina Jolie’s Tigress even get a few memorable moments that are authentically hers.) I have mixed feelings about how it goes back to the protagonist’s history in order to reveal another layer of hidden secrets –that kind of thing may deepen the series mythology, but it makes it all look interconnected to a degree that’s not always worth scrutiny. The action sequences, at least, aren’t too bad: there’s a chase set in an urban environment that’s dynamic and fun to a degree that wasn’t seen in the original. There is some very nice design work here that goes beyond the simple parody or homage to other movies, and it’s coupled with a tone that doesn’t seem as anachronistic as in the prequel. In the end, people who liked the first film a lot should also enjoy this one, and that’s almost all one asks of a sequel.
(In theaters, June 2008) Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about this film is what’s missing from it: Pop-culture references. As PDI/Dreamworks progresses beyond the Shrek franchise, its animated films are becoming more universal and less rooted in their own place and time. Kung Fu Panda isn’t there yet (the first few moments of Jack Black’s “Awesome!”-heavy dialog are jarring), but it’s an improvement over past PDI films, and the result is generally pleasant. The script includes quite a few nods to fanboy wish-fulfillment (much like the recent The Forbidden Kingdom, this film proves that kung-fu has now reached referential mainstream consciousness) and if Black’s deliberately-irritating shtick as a lovable doofus is starting to wear thin, there are a few good moments in this film. Sadly, the film focuses too much on the titular panda and not enough on the other characters, some of whom are stunt-cast with famous voices… that barely get more than five lines and twice as many grunts. (Seriously: did Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan spend more than half a day in the studio?) The best sequences involve training-by-dumplings, a prison escape, a fabulous-five bridge fight and a final brawl that leave no buildings unscathed. In the background, the quality of the CGI is spectacular enough to pass unnoticed. Not that the film will pause long enough to let anyone appreciate the scenery. Kung Fu Panda may be too blunt and simple to be transcendent like Pixar’s features, but it’s good enough for lazy summer evenings.