Kung Fu Panda 4 still

Film Review: Kung Fu Panda 4


Directors: Mike Mitchell, Stephanie Ma Stine
DreamWorks Animation
In Theaters: 03.08

The animated hits of the 2000s are now the films that a generation of twenty-somethings grew up watching, and the idea that Kung Fu Panda 4 will be a chance for some of them to introduce their own kids to a childhood favorite has my head spinning.

Over the course of three films, Po the Panda, the renowned Dragon Warrior (voiced by Jack Black, School of Rock) has overcome powerful adversaries with his exceptional martial arts skills and achieved great things. When Po learns that it’s time for the next step in his journey to become the Spiritual Leader of the Valley of Peace, he feels more than a little over his head. Not only is spirituality not exactly his strong suit, but he also urgently needs to find and train a successor as the new Dragon Warrior before he can assume his prestigious position. Adding to his troubles, a dangerous sorceress named The Chameleon (Viola Davis, The Help, Fences)  a clever lizard capable of transforming into any creature at will, is determined to get hold of Po’s Staff of Wisdom, which would enable her to bring back all the villains banished by Po to the spirit realm. The Dragon Warrior is going to need all the help he can get, and finds himself teaming up with Zhen (Awkwafina, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) a sly and nimble corsac fox. Zhen is an exceptionally cunning thief, but is she trustworthy? Po will have to put his faith in Zhen, the universe and himself if he is to come out of this on top and win the day.

The Kung Fu Panda series has been an extraordinary overperformer for DreamWorks, both at the box office and in terms of quality, bringing the studio to new heights. Kung Fu Panda 2 remains arguably not only one of the best animated films of the century so far, but one of the best action films as well. After the third film brought things to a satisfying conclusion, a poor fourth chapter really could have tarnished the legacy in the same manner as the third and fourth Shrek films. Thankfully, Kung Fu Panda 4 has enough heart, wit, wisdom and butt-kicking bodaciousness to be more than just worthy as an entry in the canon, it gives a more satisfying and complete ending than the third film did. Director Mike Mitchell (The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part) and co-director Stephanie Ma Stine keep the crazy comedy coming, the fights fast and furious and the drama disarmingly deep.

Black is terrific as always, and his chemistry with Awkwafina is divine. These are two multifaceted actors who lift any movie they are in up by several notches, and when you put them together, it’s pure magic. The movie has no one but two perfect pairings, with Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) and James Hong (Big Trouble in Little China) nearly stealing the movie as Li Shan and Shifu, Po’s biological father and adoptive father, respectively, and the choice to make them into a comedy team this time around is inspired and utterly charming. Davis makes a great villain, and it’s great to have Ian McShane (John Wick) back as Tai Lung, the heavy from the first film.

Kung Fu Panda 4 is better than can be reasonably expected from the fourth movie in any series and is likely to be one of the most enjoyable family films you’ll see all year. It’s both a great action flick and funny, feel-good film that earns its warm and fuzzy credentials. –Patrick Gibbs

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