Kung Fu Panda 4

March 8, 202450/1006 min
Starring
Jack Black, Awkwafina, Viola Davis, Dustin Hoffman
Written by
Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger
Directed by
Mike Mitchell and Stephanie Stine
Run Time
1h 34min
Release Date
March 8th, 2024
Overall Score
Rating Summary

Fifteen years ago when Pixar was still ruling the animation world with classics like WALL-E, and their parent company Disney was just finding its legs again with the underrated Bolt. The rest of the animation landscape was filled with Veggie Tales, Bratz and a ton of disposable direct-to-video trash. DreamWorks Animation with more misses than hits, and running out of gas on the Shrek train were still on their way to creating successful franchises like the Madagascar series and the perfect How to Train Your Dragon films.

However in the summer of 2008 an unexpected hero kicked his way onto the screen and into the hearts of children everywhere. Po, voiced by Jack Black became the lovable, relatable, unsure of himself, dumpling-chomping Kung Fu Panda! With two more sequels in 2011 and 2016 and a 5-year TV show run, the series while missing a swing here or a kick there never really lost its charm.

In Kung Fu Panda 4 we find the Dragon Warrior Po (Black) still kicking tail and taking dumplings (in his tummy). Holding the high of his talent and popularity Po is informed by Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) that Po must now ascend to the rank of Spiritual Leader of the Valley of Peace. Po is surprised and not ready to move on, even if it means moving up. Forced to choose a successor Po has a chance encounter with a local thief, a corsac fox named Zhen played by everyones secret weapon of success on film: Awkwafina. He decides to make her the new Dragon Warrior against Master Shifu’s wishes. Po and Zhen travel to her city where the pair encounter all kinds of trouble. They also come into the crosshairs of The Chameleon (Viola Davis). A ruthless shapeshifting sorcerer intent on opening a door to the spirt world in order to gain unlimited power.

One of the biggest strengths of the Kung Fu Panda series is its tremendous heart, and life lessons that kids don’t even realize they are learning. The other is the kinetic, fantastic fighting scenes. One of these is leaned on more in Kung Fu Panda 4. Unfortunately it’s the one that will appeal to the younger crowd more than the ones that grew up with Po and his fast moving buddies, and baddies. But real quick let me just say, the animation in this film is gorgeous. DreamWorks have got this now modern style of animated film down pat. Even with the rise of the Spider-Verse blazing a new trail, the CG as a tool not a crutch still looks as wondrous as it did in 2008. What’s missing is a clear focus, which is sorely needed in a film with a runtime of 1 hr. 34 min. There is no time to dawdle, but Panda 4 does a lot of that. We got Po’s same old journey, Zhen’s new journey, Po’s dads Mr. Ping (James Hong) and Li (Bryan Cranston) on an unnecessary journey, and the all too familiar villain’s journey. Don’t get me wrong, the voice work and the chemistry between Black and Awkwafina is great, but trying to devote and equal amount of time to each character is very daunting, and the filmmakers struggle to keep pace. Even something like Po getting culture shock when he’s exposed to a big city after living the village life for so long would be an interesting aspect to explore. But it’s almost just fast-forwarded over as the plot needs to move along with or without you.

By the end we get some fun action, some funny character moments, but a truncated version of one of the earlier films when they had Po’s unlikely stellar kung fu movements and important lessons in perfect zen-like harmony.

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