Kung Fu Panda 3 (PG)

Animation 95 min. January 29, 2016
By Alan Scherstuhl
There's essentially one joke in the Kung-Fu Panda movies. A ridiculous, adorable creature executes some extravagant action-flick flourish -- vaulting over roofs, dropping a bad guy, striking a poster-perfect superhero pose. Then the battle music fades and that adorable creature breaks badass character to remind us it's totally relatable, even human: It wheezes to catch its breath, it shouts "Awesome!" in disbelief at its own stunt choreography, it asks with gentle awkwardness whether all this kung-foolery is maybe a little much.

That's a sturdy gag, endearing and adaptable: Adorable Creature Oscar Isaac works a variation on it some ten minutes into The Force Awakens, tipping us off to the welcome fact that even for Star Wars people it's presumptuous to don a cape and death-mask. But Kung-Fu Panda 3, while generous in cuteness and sunset-backdrop beauty, stands as an unnecessary reminder that even the best gag probably shouldn't power three full films, even afternoon-killers for the kiddos. Almost every moment of martial-arts action is undercut by some spin on that single joke, and then every joke or moment of feeling is quickly dashed aside for another keep-us-dazzled moment of martial-arts action. The movie undercuts its own undercutting.

And as with Shrek, Kung-Fu Panda 3 is cause to wonder: What's it mean when kids' first exposure to hero's-journey story beats comes from self-aware meta-adventures whose creators feel obliged to let us know that they know those beats are tired and dumb? I don't quail for the children, but here's hoping that when they act out movie-like stories with their action figures they can do so earnestly, and not offer jokey half-assed apologies for being invested in something derivative.
Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Alessandro Carloni Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, James Hong, Randall Duk Kim, Bryan Cranston Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger Melissa Cobb 20th Century Fox

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