The story is hardly original, in fact it’s hard to differentiate from the last film, focusing on a How to Train Your Dragon 2 stealing thread which finds Po (Jack Black) reunited with his long-lost father, Li (Bryan Cranston). At the same time as dealing with his patriarchal dilemma, a new foe has emerged from the Spirit Realm; the self-appointed fearsome legend that is Kai (J.K. Simmons), who seeks to turn Po’s allies, the Furious Five, against him and his new panda family.
The franchise might feel like it’s running out of ideas, with not that much on offer to separate this from the straight-to-DVD or TV series adventures of the last few years, the inclusion of “Kung-Fu Fighting” over the end credits, and a complete lack of original villain are testament to this, but admittedly when it’s funny, this hits harder than a panda punch to the belly.
What it does so well can be found in the smaller moments and introductions of the new characters; Po and Li’s initial meeting, whilst spoilt for anyone that’s watched the trailers, remains endearingly sweet, and Kai’s initial reeling off of his unfamiliar pseudonyms to a couple of non-plussed farmers, is a running joke that never becomes tired.
There’s also the selfie phenomenon rendered as quick sketch drawings, a finale that does what Kung- Fu Panda has always done so well, err on the side of silliness, with “belly-bongs” and “butt-slaps” that’ll keep the cubs giggling well into repeat home viewings, and Po’s hilariously catchy put down of “chitty chitty chit chat, chit chat”, that you’ll be trying to work into your day-to-day lives before too long, is hilarious.
The series also has a recurring way of presenting its mythical backstories as beautifully animated vignettes, and this is no different, Kai’s flashback is a gorgeously self-contained short that stands-out as a contrast to the bright red and green vistas of the rest of the movie.
The extension of the universe is less successful; the panda montages are cute, but the relocation and sheer number of them mean that less time is afforded to the Furious Five, who this time around quickly become the Forgotten Five, and Kate Hudson, seemingly channeling Rebel Wilson, just doesn’t work as potential love interest, Mei Mei.
Relying on the “if it ain’t broke” method of filmmaking, KP3 is familiar, but enjoyably so, with Jack Black so perfect in the black and white fur of Po, and laughs that are funny enough to forgive the laziness of the whole kaleidoscopic exercise.