The original Kung Fu Panda film from 2008 was a surprisingly high quality affair, showing a reasonably respectful approach to Chinese culture and combining it with unexpectedly sophisticated kung fu sequences and the more standard type of humour often reserved for animated films with talking animals. Kung Fu Panda 2 provided more of the same in 2011, and now it’sĀ perhaps not shocking (given the growing influence of the Chinese market on American cinema) to find a third film belatedly turn up with the spirit of its predecessors very much intact. Its formula is well and truly familiar by now, but there’s so much sweetness and good intention at the heart of its narrative, and such a dazzling array of animation techniques on display, that it’s easy to forgive its lack of innovation.

Visually, it’s probably the strongest film in the series – which is saying something. “Spirit world” sequences and flashbacks allow the animators to experiment with different approaches, switching to some stunningly abstract hand-drawn moments and fully utilising every trick in the 3D book. The character work is also still very effective – almost all the main players have very endearing personalities, a kind of youthful innocence that combines the warm spirituality of much Chinese philosophy with fart gags. There’s also a unique pleasure to be had watching various martial arts disciplines being fairly accurately conveyed, each by a different and oddly appropriate animal. As unambitious and straightforward as the storytelling might be, it would take a cold heart not to enjoy the attention to detail and generosity of spirit on display here.

More of the same gently humorous talking animal comedy banter7
A brilliant variety of animation techniques on display, including some stunning use of 3D9
A surprisingly accurate depiction of various martial arts disciplines8
A completely generic and safe approach to its narrative5
A kind of unambitious sweetness that's hard to dislike7
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
Bechdel Test Failures
  • None of the named female characters talk to each other
7Overall Score

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