Kung Fu Panda 4 Review

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Rating: 3/5

Synopsis:

The “Kung Fu Panda” series has a knack for taking breaks between installments. So eight years later, the long awaited sequel has arrived! This fourth entry sees Po enjoying his role as the Dragon Warrior. But when Master Shifu informs him that he will be the next Spiritual Leader of the Valley, Po must find his successor as the Dragon Warrior. He must also stop the villainous Chameleon, a shapeshifting foe intent on stealing the kung fu from all of Po’s previous villains. Can Po find the next Dragon Warrior and save the valley in time?

Positives:

With any “Kung Fu Panda” installment, audiences can expect fun characters, fast paced action, and creative animation. That is the case here too. A certain formula has made this series beloved by so many people. With the absence of the Furious Five and a limited role from Master Shifu, Po is asked to carry more screen time here. I’ve enjoyed seeing how Po’s journey has evolved from film to film, learning a new lesson that makes him a better Dragon Warrior. This story leans on Po’s ability to channel change in his life. He is very comfortable with the way things are going and is loving every moment. But he is asked to uproot everything for the greater good and find someone to take his place. I enjoyed seeing Po’s evolution into the Spiritual Leader, learning that change can be intimidating but embracing it is a part of moving forward.

Although the film has the lowest budget in the franchise, the animation still holds up. The colorful action sequences and Chinese influence continue to make the franchise’s style unique. The fast paced kung fu combined with the world building will continue to impress fans. I do enjoy how each entry in the franchise has something different to say. Po is becoming one of the most well rounded characters among animated franchises due to the nice messages. He also remains interesting because of the progression of each entry and how nothing stays the same. Good work by DreamWorks to keep one of their most popular franchises fresh. Po’s duck dad and panda dad both shine once again. They have a hilarious dynamic and always help Po when he needs it most. My favorite new character was The Chameleon. While her motive was slightly generic, I enjoyed that her ability to shapeshift and deceive was a fresh conflict for Po to address. Families can expect a fun time at the movies with this one!

Negatives:

Unfortunately for this film, it has the problem of arriving long after the previous entry. The gap doesn’t feel long because they needed to find the right story, but to reinvigorate the franchise to keep more sequels coming. I don’t think this story adds a ton to the franchise, but it is certainly fun. I’d argue that it’s the most generic of them all. What will disappoint some will be the absence of the Furious Five. These fan favorites are substituted for Zhen, the potential candidate to replace Po as the Dragon Warrior. She’s okay, but never rises to the level of the characters she’s replacing. Hopefully in future entries she finds her footing. 

The humor is also the most family friendly of the franchise. Where the classic “Kung Fu Panda” humor existed in each of the previous entries, this one feels the most tame. It’s likely that DreamWorks is trying to make the franchise as profitable as possible by adjusting it to be suitable for larger audiences. I understand the mentality, but the film loses some of the edge from the earlier movies. While The Chameleon is a cool villain, her potential was underdeveloped. The main aspect of the character I would have adjusted was her motivation. It felt very one note, much like Shen from “Kung Fu Panda 2”. If her threat level was more daunting and the older villains were integrated into the story more, I believe the character would have been stronger. 

Conclusion:

While the fourth entry into this franchise isn’t the most memorable, it’s a welcomed return for the fun loving Po. His charisma and enthusiasm make up for many of the shortcomings. The action and animation are both top notch while adding another worthwhile lesson for Po. Hopefully the next entry has more of a distinction within the franchise because this one is arguably the most forgettable. But in any case, I had fun with it and families should as well.