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Review: ‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ understands what’s expected and delivers amusingly

‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ follows another of Po’s adventures as he faces off against his most difficult foe

A scene from 'Kung Fu Panda 4'
A scene from 'Kung Fu Panda 4' courtesy of DreamWorks Animation
A scene from 'Kung Fu Panda 4' courtesy of DreamWorks Animation

‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ follows another of Po’s adventures as he prepares to face-off against his most difficult and devious foe yet.

There are many kung fu sagas that follow a single character’s journey from apprentice to master, sometimes over several movies. They make mistakes from which they learn important lessons and confront villains creating injustice within their communities. They become heroes with a reputation for standing up for the little guy and showing great courage when faced with nearly insurmountable challenges. Martial arts is always at the centre of the narrative with their training reaching new levels and new skills being unlocked to aid in their quest. In Kung Fu Panda 4, there’s a choice to be made and the hero is not feeling up to the task.

Having reached the highest level of enlightenment, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) informs Po (Jack Black) it’s time for him to assume his new position in the temple as a teacher and bestow his warrior responsibilities on another deserving fighter. But Po is not ready to relinquish his duties as Dragon Warrior, enjoying his celebrity and the value he brings to the world. When a new baddy called The Chameleon (Viola Davis) emerges, Po decides his skills are still needed. With the help of Zhen (Awkwafina), a super stealthy thief, he embarks on a mission to stop The Chameleon’s reign of terror and possibly make the biggest mistake of his life.

Having previously limited the presence of the Furious Five, they are all but absent from this picture with just brief mentions of their exploits elsewhere in the world. Instead, the focus is on Po’s ill-advised partnership with Zhen, which takes them to dangerous dens of ill repute, and his fathers’ concern for his safety, which leads to their own comic-laden quest to protect their son. Zhen is the unknown in the equation as she met Po under less-than-ideal circumstances, though it did afford her the opportunity to showcase her impressive ninja-like skills.

The Chameleon is a formidable opponent, extending the traditionally small lizard’s abilities to also include transmogrification. Consequently, her ability to stir up trouble is greater than the other villains Po faced and her ultimate ambition will change the game entirely. Yet, even though some of the key characters are new, this is still very much a Kung Fu Panda movie, meaning it’s sweet and amusing. In spite of Po’s heightened maturity, he once again learns an important lesson and finds that he’s still capable of more than he thought possible.

The voice cast remains on point with everyone returning to reprise their roles, including Black, Hoffman, Bryan Cranston, James Hong and more. The new additions also bring great personality to their characters with Davis exuding authority and evil calculation, Awkwafina providing a unique, street smart perspective, and Ke Huy Quan leading the city’s vast network of criminals. In the end, the franchise’s third sequel stays par for the course and delivers on expectations.

Directors: Mike Mitchell and Stephanie Stine
Starring: Jack Black, Awkwafina and Viola Davis

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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