Third time’s a charmer for Kung Fu Panda

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Jo­ce­lyn Noveck

PG. 95 min.

If you’re one of those peo­ple— and I’m with you— who roll your eyes when handed a pair of 3- D glasses at the mul­ti­plex, won­der­ing if all this rig­ma­role is re­ally nec­es­sary, then take heart: The lovely, color- pop­ping vi­su­als in “Kung Fu Panda 3” are well worth those darned glasses.

And the evoca­tive Dream­Works An­i­ma­tion vi­su­als are ac­com­pa­nied by just enough heart, witty di­a­logue and kid­friendly hu­mor— any­thing about gorg­ing on dumplings, for ex­am­ple! — to make this an al­laround ex­tremely sat­is­fy­ing third in­stall­ment in the pop­u­lar se­ries. Like a well- made dumpling, it’s not too heavy but not too light, has the right amount of spice, and leaves one with some ap­petite for the next time.

Much of the ap­peal of the “Panda” films is, of course, the starry cast of voices, and it’s fun to try to fig­ure out who they are, rather than in­form­ing your­self be­fore­hand ( but if you do, stop read­ing here!) Of course, you’ll al­ready know that Jack Black is back, and in fine shape, as Po, our ro­tund panda hero and re­luc­tant DragonWar­rior.

Lovely, color- pop­ping vi­su­als in “Kung Fu Panda 3” arewell­worth the 3- D glasses.

Black’s goofy per­sona is per­fect for lines like, when he dis­cov­ers other pan­das don’t use chop­sticks to slow them down: “I al­ways knew I wasn’t eat­ing up to my full po­ten­tial!”

The film, di­rected by Jen­nifer Yuh Nelson and Alessan­dro Car­loni, be­gins in the spirit realm, where Oog­way, the an­cient kung fu mas­ter ( and tor­toise), is sud­denly at­tacked by the vil­lain­ous bull Kai, a for­mer friend. Kai has been spend­ing the last few cen­turies col­lect­ing all the “chi” power from kung fu masters and stor­ing it in amulets. His goal is to bring his su­per­nat­u­ral army to the mor­tal world and de­feat Po, his anointed op­po­nent.

But the im­por­tant thing to know about Kai— Mas­ter of Pain, Beast of Vengeance, Maker ofWi­d­ows— is that he’s voiced by J. K. Sim­mons, the Os­car- win­ning “Whiplash” ac­tor who ter­ror­ized poor Miles Teller as a night­mar­ish jazz band con­duc­tor. This guy knows cru­elty.

Luck­ily, Po feels to­tally con­fi­dent and up to the task. Not! But first, an up­date: Our roly- poly friend has been busily goof­ing around, as usual, when the old mas­ter Shifu ( DustinHoff­man) in­forms him he must take over the task of teach­ing kung fu.“Me teach?” Po asks. Shifu replies: “If you only dowhat you can do, you will never be­more thanwhat you are now.”

If thatweren’t enough drama, Po’s bi­o­log­i­cal father, Li, has turned up, caus­ing con­ster­na­tion for Po’s adop­tive father, Mr. Ping ( the very funny JamesHong). “How­dowe knowhe’s even re­lated to you?” Mr. Ping— a goose, of course— says an­grily, as the pan­das hap­pily bump bel­lies.

Po de­cides to jour­ney with Li to the se­cret moun­tain en­clave where pan­das live, to mas­ter his own “chi,” which he’ll need to de­feat Kai. In this charm­ing se­quence, set in a gor­geous ShangriLa- like set­ting, Po meets— and hugs, and hugs— his ex­tended panda fam­ily. They in­clude adorable young’uns ( a cou­ple are the off­spring of An­gelina Jolie, back as Ti­gress) and a sexy rib­bon dancer, MeiMei ( Kate Hud­son, ham­ming it up).

Ul­ti­mately, this is a story about hav­ing the courage to live up to one’s po­ten­tial. “I like who I am,” Po says early on. “You don’t even know who you are,” Shifu replies.

It’s a con­ver­sa­tion we could all have with our kids. Ideally, we’d soften it with some wit and a whole bunch of dumplings.

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