Sunday, April 14, 2024

“KUNG FU PANDA 4”

THE STORY – Po must train a new warrior when he’s chosen to become the spiritual leader of the Valley of Peace. However, when a powerful shape-shifting sorceress sets her eyes on his Staff of Wisdom, he suddenly realizes he’s going to need some help. Teaming up with a quick-witted corsac fox, Po soon discovers that heroes can be found in the most unexpected places.

THE CAST – Jack Black, Awkwafina, Viola Davis, Dustin Hoffman, James Hong, Bryan Cranston, Ian McShane & Ke Huy Quan

THE TEAM – Mike Mitchell (Director), Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger & Darren Lemke (Writers)

THE RUNNING TIME – 94 Minutes


Few things in life are as wonderful as Jack Black voicing an animated character. The joy, emotion, sheer power, and flexibility of his voice never get old. That’s why, four movies into the “Kung Fu Panda” franchise, seeing that big ol’ panda kicking butt is still so much fun to watch. Only a handful of animated franchises have surpassed the three-movie mark, and “Kung Fu Panda” now joins the likes of the “Shrek,” “Toy Story,” and “Ice Age” series in having a fourth installment. As in those franchises, it’s a struggle to maintain a sense of freshness four movies in, sixteen years after the original film. With hilarious, propulsive action, “Kung Fu Panda 4” finds enough fun for Po to make this another solid entry in the series, even if the franchise may have run its course.

It’s been many years since Grand Master Oogway proclaimed Po (Black) the Dragon Warrior. Since then, he’s grown in so many ways. He’s fought countless terrifying villains, learned to work alongside a team, and even found his real dad. So much has changed that at the start of “Kung Fu Panda 4,” Po is kind of in his sweet spot. He’s comfortable saving the Valley of Peace from bad guys and hanging out at his dad’s restaurant. Naturally, it’s time for Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) to drop a new bombshell: Po must choose his successor as Dragon Warrior and become the Spiritual Leader of the Valley of Peace. But Po isn’t ready to move on from being the Dragon Warrior. He’s comfortable. He’s happy. Why do things need to change?

While Po is working through his resistance, a mysterious new villain emerges, goading the Dragon Warrior to come and stop her. She’s The Chameleon (Viola Davis), a shape-shifting, power-stealing lizard intent on absorbing the powers of all the most notorious villains to defeat the Dragon Warrior. Just as Po is learning about this new challenge, a thief named Zhen (Awkwafina) shows up to steal the Staff of Wisdom. When Po realizes Zhen might know more about the Chameleon than she’s letting on, the two team up to take the villain down.

Fresh off of a villainous turn in “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” Davis crafts another dastardly character far more powerful than anyone Po has faced yet. Using her powers, she can resurrect old villains and steal their powers, making this installment a real callback to all the previous films. But it’s the pairing of Awkwafina and Black that works the most in “Kung Fu Panda 4” to give it some level of freshness. The two play off each other very well, making this more of a buddy comedy than the earlier films. While Awkwafina doesn’t change up her voice too much, she and Black are both so expressive; these are two performers who were made for the realm of animation. Zhen shows Po around Juniper City, introducing him to an underworld of crime. New characters like Han (Ke Huy Quan), a pangolin leader, and many cute, murderous bunnies exist. With a fox pairing up with someone good-hearted, showing them a more seedy underworld, the story starts to feel a bit too reminiscent of “Zootopia.”

It’s wise to let animated characters age with their films and show how even good things sometimes must come to an end. The more compelling moments in “Kung Fu Panda 4” center around Po realizing it’s time to pass the torch. These are mature themes, especially for a young audience who might’ve grown up with the franchise. It also opens up more possibilities in the “Kung Fu Panda” world as the series looks for new directions in future installments. The film had opportunities to push these ideas about aging even further as Po faces his old foes, but it pulls back, leaning on the action in those moments instead.

The fight sequences are always a highlight in the “Kung Fu Panda” series, and the fourth installment is no different. With the Chameleon able to shift into other characters mid-fight, even changing into Po himself, there’s some really excellent action throughout the movie. When they first meet, Zhen and Po have a great, close-quarters fight that utilizes some longer takes with propulsive energy. Even so, much of the action feels like rehashes of the earlier films. There are flashes of stylistic choices, like brushstrokes accenting big moments and heavy use of slow motion, but it needs more if it’s going to differentiate itself this many films into the franchise. When the action of movies like “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” and even “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” are setting new standards for animation, a series centered around kung fu needs to push the action barriers just a little bit more to keep up. Hans Zimmer and Steve Mazzaro’s score is decent, if unremarkable, but Tenacious D’s cover of Britney Spears’s “…Baby One More Time” in the end credits is a highlight. Hilarious and brilliant, it’s a perfect cap on a movie that needed to end strong to somewhat justify its existence.

While there are so many areas that “Kung Fu Panda 4” could have and should have pushed the boundaries, there is still a lot of pleasing storytelling here. It’s a genuinely enjoyable flick with lovable characters and so many laughable moments courtesy of Black and Awkwafina’s impeccable comedic timing. It’s easy to write off a film when it’s the fourth of a franchise, and it’s not as good as the earlier installments, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie through and through. Whether this is the end of Po’s story or not, fans of the lovable kung-fu fighting panda should expect a light but fantastic time with “Kung Fu Panda 4.”

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Another solid entry in the franchise. Hilarious, propulsive action and a thrilling new villain. Jack Black as Po never gets old, and he's got an excellent partner with Awkwafina's Zhen.

THE BAD - This franchise may be running out of steam after four movies. It's more of the same, even if it's more of something good.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - Best Animated Feature

THE FINAL SCORE - 6/10

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Daniel Howat
Daniel Howathttps://nextbestpicture.com
Movie and awards season obsessed. Hollywood Critics Association Member.

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Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>Another solid entry in the franchise. Hilarious, propulsive action and a thrilling new villain. Jack Black as Po never gets old, and he's got an excellent partner with Awkwafina's Zhen.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>This franchise may be running out of steam after four movies. It's more of the same, even if it's more of something good.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b><a href="/oscar-predictions-best-animated-feature/">Best Animated Feature</a><br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>6/10<br><br>"KUNG FU PANDA 4"