In a movie world that seems obsessed with franchises and a quick turnaround on a successful format, it’s telling that it’s been 5 years since Kung Fu Panda 2 hit our screens. Five years. The boy was 4 at the time, the age of our littlest now. That’s a long time in both cinema and a kids life but it shows that Dreamworks are more interested in making a great film than a quick profit.
Taking the kids to see the European premier of Kung Fu Panda 3 in Leicester Square was an interesting experience. Our kids like rewatching their favourite movies (endlessly), so they’ve been watching the first two Kung Fu Pandas quite a lot anyway but it’s always interesting to return to a franchise for a new film when so much time has passed. Would our eldest still be as enthusiastic for Po’s adventures now he’s almost nine as he was when he was four?
The short answer is a definite yes. Dreamworks aren’t Disney and that isn’t a problem. Disney do timeless, they do musical numbers but Dreamworks do sass, they do humour and when they do it right, they have kids and adults alike rolling in the cinema aisles. Outside of the Kung Fu Panda films, we love the likes of Megamind (Met-troce-ity never fails to make me laugh), Shrek and their great adaptation of How to Train Your Dragon. In fact our daughters favourite film is their 2002 horse movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.
All the things that made the first two Kung Fu Panda films great are still here. Po is still as dim as ever, and the scene where he fails to recognise his birth father is as funny in the film as it is in the trailer. It is in a way nice to see that Pandas generally are as generally clumsy and greedy as Po is, and without trying to sound too pretentious film critic, it’s good that the characters, Po especially, are given room to develop and grow.
The story sees Po facing two great challenges, he must defeat Kai, a kung fu master who has crossed over from the spirit world to extract his vengeance on the world, and he must struggle with what it means to be a panda. There’s no certainty on what is the biggest challenge either!
We particularly liked the bit when Master Shifu tells Po he has to teach the rest Kung Fu. It doesn’t go well:
Of course little kids are unlikely to care whether Po has character development or not, they’re more interested in the action, mild peril and the humour. Kung Fu Panda has this in spades. There’s nothing funnier than watching Po attempt to train a panda army, only to have the kids eat all his teaching props. It harks back brilliantly to Master Shifu training Po with a bowl of dumplings in the first film.
There are plenty of little nods to the previous two films, which to my mind shows a real love of the material from the people in charge. Talking of which, the two co-directors joined Kate Hudson, Jack Black and the Vamps, who played a couple of songs, on stage before the movie to tell us how cool it was. They weren’t wrong you know!
This is a film that you can genuinely enjoy with the kids, rather than endure. Love it and it’s out on general release on 11 March.