Directed By: Steve Martino
Written By: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
PG; 95 minutes
4 stars (out of 5)
The latest installment of this popular animation franchise is as cute as one might expect but lacks the tension needed to propel the plot.
The villain this time is Kai, once a brother-in-arms to Master Oogway until his greed for power rather abruptly tipped him toward the Dark Side (or whatever they have in this particular world). This is a case of the back story needing a bit more attention in order for viewers to feel it; as things stand, we take it on faith that Kai is bad, and we hardly ever see him anyway.
Oh, okay, Kai takes Master Oogway's chi in the first scene of the movie, thus reducing Master Oogway to a jade charm. We know this is not good, but we are given no other consequences except, uh . . . No one wants to be turned into a jade charm?
It's by taking the chi of all the Masters in the spirit realm that Kai is able to return to the mortal realm. Why, exactly, he wants to do that is unclear. To get more chi? To get revenge on the pandas who . . . Didn't give him chi way back when? He's after the Dragon Warrior, whose chi is ostensibly very strong. This will make Kai very strong. And . . . Something. It simply isn't laid out in a way that generates any kind of sense of foreboding. The stakes are not clear.
Meanwhile, Po finds his biological father and visits the hidden panda village and learns what it means to be a panda.
The whole idea behind the movie is somewhat amorphous. It's about finding yourself and being yourself. And about how you're never just one thing but many, collected into one being.
The animation here is beautiful, particularly the stylized spirit world and flashbacks. The humor is on point, but there isn't quite enough. More Mantis + Crane, please! More of Kai would also have been good. He had some truly funny moments, and a little more exposure might have made him seem like more of a threat. The focus on Po was almost too much; the supporting cast was much funnier than he was. And Tigress being adopted by a little panda who called her a "stripy baby" was adorable.
I did enjoy this movie, and so did my kids. But it didn't quite live up to its full potential. By the third film, it begins to feel like they're taking a few shortcuts. They shouldn't. Much as pandas hate stairs, the filmmakers should take the time to climb them.