When Po's long-lost panda father suddenly reappears, the reunited duo travels to a secret panda paradise to meet scores of hilarious new panda characters. But when the supernatural villain Kai begins to sweep across China defeating all the kung fu masters, Po must do the impossible-learn to train a village full of his fun-loving, clumsy brethren to become the ultimate band of Kung Fu Pandas.
It had slipped my mind since 'Kung Fu Panda 2' came out in 2011, but that one left us with a bit of a cliffhanger. At the end a panda exclaims "My son is alive!" then cut to black. 'Kung Fu Panda 3' finally revisits that thread in case you were wondering about the franchise's continuity or something.
So, here we are. The 'Kung Fu Panda' franchise is three movies deep, and they've all – more or less – contained the exact same story structure. Po (Jack Black) feels unworthy of the mantle laid before him; the worst bad guy imaginable rises to conquer China; and Po is the only one who can stop him.
In the first film Po fought the vicious snow leopard Tai Lung. The second film he faced off against an egotistical peacock named Lord Shen. In the third film an even more improbable bad guy rises. Tai Lung escaped a maximum security prison, Lord Shen returned from exile, but neither of them hold a candle to Kai (J.K. Simmons), a snarling bull, who resurrects himself from the spirit world.
The story follows the same predictable structure as the previous movies. Yet, however familiar the story feels, it makes up for it in the animation department. There are times that 'Kung Fu Panda 3's animation simply amazes.
The opening scene, where Kai battles Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) in the spirit world is breathtaking. The color and detail as Kai jumps from one floating rock to another are extraordinary. When the floating rocks – and sometimes mountains containing crumbling monasteries – splinter and explode during the fight it's hard not to marvel at how utterly impressive it all is. Pixar's "The Good Dinosaur" achieved a photorealism that was entirely immersive. While "Kung Fu Panda 3" isn't as concerned with lifelike animation, it is nonetheless as remarkable as that Pixar counterpart.
The core of the story revolves around Po being reintroduced to his long-lost biological father. Li (Bryan Cranston) journeys to find his son after receiving a mysterious message from the universe that his son is still alive. Feeling left out is Po's adoptive father Mr. Ping (Kim), who can't hide his jealousy when Po's birth father returns.
As a child of adoption, this storyline hit rather close to home. What a great segue into teaching children about complex familial relationships. Po has two fathers. A birth father and an adoptive father. It's an interesting dynamic that turns 'Kung Fu Panda 3' from a formulaic tale of animated karate-chopping animals into something else entirely. These complicated relationships between the characters add a certain richness that wasn't there in the previous films.
Of course, the beats are foreseeable and the resolution is unsurprising, to say the least. But, 'Kung Fu Panda 3' is a kid's movie that deals with some fairly weighty familial social issues. It's refreshing to see a big-budget animated feature delve into these sorts of topics.
While it's not revelatory by any means, 'Kung Fu Panda 3' – along with being stunningly beautiful to watch – at the very least offers up a discussion topic for parents and their children: families are beautiful and complicated and rarely fit into a given mold.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The 'Kung Fu Panda 3' Awesome Edition Blu-ray comes complete with two discs: 50GB Blu-ray and a DVD copy. It also comes with a digital copy. Finally, there is a slipcover provided.
That breathtaking animation described in the main review is on full display here with this 1080p presentation. Detail is astoundingly clear. That opening scene is just mesmerizing in its clarity, color, and motion.
From fur, to hair, to scales, the fine detail here is constantly impressive. Even though it's become commonplace in animated films to provide rich texture with fur and hair, 'Kung Fu Panda 3' seems to take it to the next level. The textures of each animal hide is amazingly rendered.
Colors are eye-popping. They run the entire gamut of the spectrum. Primary colors are bold. Whites are never too hot, and black areas are as dark and inky as they should be. There is no banding to be seen. There are a few fade outs that were prime opportunities for banding, however faint, to rear its ugly head. It never does. This is a flawless presentation made for viewing on large screens.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track isn't as flawless as its video counterpart. Don't get me wrong, it's got a ton going for it, however it feels like it's holding something back. Much in the same way 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Blu-ray. Now it doesn't seem to be on the same level, but it some of the film's sound was evidently soft.
The quibbles are there, but they're minor. For the most part this is an immersive track with lively rear and side channels. The spirit world battles feature some wonderful full-bodied surround sound as floating rocks crash into each other splintering all around the sound stage. Bass is heavy during these moments and is a continuous presence throughout the movie.
Dialogue is always clear. Panning effects, are smooth as glass. As characters fluidly move from one channel to another the auditory action follows suit. So, while it might need the volume turned up a couple more decibels, the range and detail is still there for a kick-butt audio experience.
Everybody Loves a Panda Party (HD, 2 min.) – More dancing to "Kung Fu Fighting."
Everybody Loves a Panda Party – Karaoke with Po (HD, 2 min.) – A karaoke version of the featurette above.
Po's Posters of Awesomeness (HD, 3 min.) – A look at some of Po's posters.
Make a Panda Party Paper Pal (HD, 4 min.) – Po shows kids how to make paper panda using an insert provided with the disc.
Play Like a Panda (HD, 5 min.) – The directors talk about the baby pandas featured in the movie.
The Origin of "Skadoosh" (HD, 2 min.) – A look at how the phrase came to be.
Faux Paws: Deleted Scenes (HD, 8 min.) – The scenes, which are introduced by the directors, are shown in differing phases of animation.
Gallery of Epic Artfulness (HD, 2 min.) – Still images from the movie.
Trailer (HD, 2 min.) – The theatrical trailer is included.
Visually beautiful, 'Kung Fu Panda 3' doesn't pack much more than its predecessors. It does take time to give a differing viewpoint on non-traditional families, which works in its favor. The video is without fault. The audio is just about there, but could've used more oomph. With that said, the third 'Kung Fu Panda' movie is a recommended purchase.