KUNG FU PANDA 4 (2024)

Genre: CG Animation
Director: Mike Mitchell
Cast: Jack Black, Awkwafina, Viola Davis, Dustin Hoffman, James Hong, Bryan Cranston, Ian McShane, Ke Huy Quan
Runtime: 1 hr 35 mins
Rating: PG (Some Frightening Scenes)
Released By: UIP
Official Website: 

Opening Day: 7 March 2024

Synopsis: This spring, for the first time in almost a decade, comedy icon Jack Black returns to his role as Po, the world’s most unlikely kung fu master, with a hilarious, butt-kicking new chapter in DreamWorks Animation’s beloved action-comedy franchise: Kung Fu Panda 4. After three death-defying adventures defeating world-class villains with his unmatched courage and mad martial arts skills, Po, the Dragon Warrior (Golden Globe nominee Jack Black), is called upon by destiny to … give it a rest already. More specifically, he’s tapped to become the Spiritual Leader of the Valley of Peace. That poses a couple of obvious problems. First, Po knows as much about spiritual leadership as he does about the paleo diet, and second, he needs to quickly find and train a new Dragon Warrior before he can assume his new lofty position. Even worse, there’s been a recent sighting of a wicked, powerful crime lord, Chameleon (Oscar® winner Viola Davis), a tiny lizard who can shapeshift into any creature, large or small. And Chameleon has her greedy, beady little eyes on Po’s Staff of Wisdom, which would give her the power to re-summon all the master villains whom Po has vanquished to the spirit realm. So, Po’s going to need some help. He finds it (kinda?) in the form of crafty, quick-witted thief Zhen (Golden Globe winner Awkwafina), a corsac fox who really gets under Po’s fur but whose skills will prove invaluable. In their quest to protect the Valley of Peace from Chameleon’s reptilian claws, this comedic odd-couple duo will have to work together. In the process, Po will discover that heroes can be found in the most unexpected places.

Movie Review:

For the record, it has been 16 years since the first ‘Kung Fu Panda’, and 8 years since the last sequel that capped a trilogy. We’d be honest therefore that we cannot quite remember where the franchise left off, and we suspect many who have grown up with the earlier films won’t too. That said, ‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ only requires that you know there was once a clumsy panda named Po (Jack Black), who becomes the unlikely choice to succeed the Dragon Warrior, a legendary kung fu master capable of unlocking the secret of the Dragon Scroll that is the key to limitless power.

Having firmly established himself since then, Po’s challenge this time round is to find a successor to pass the baton, in order to advance to become the spiritual leader of the Valley of Peace. Initially reluctant to do so, Po gets some welcome reprieve with the arrival of a thieving fox, Zhen (Awkwafina). In exchange for a shorter jail time, Zhen offers information about a mysterious new villain known as the Chameleon (Viola Davis), who had recently used her powers of shape-shifting to turn into Tai Lung and intends to open a portal into the Spirit Realm to usurp the powers of the kung fu masters within, some of whom happen to be Po’s former adversaries.

Not surprisingly, Po sets out with Zhen to faraway Juniper City to defeat the Chameleon. There, the duo will form an unlikely alliance with a brusque pangolin named Han (Ke Huy Quan), the leader of an underground den of thieves whom Zhen had crossed paths with before. In parallel, worried for Po’s safety, both his biological father, Li Shan (Bryan Cranston), and adopted father Mr. Ping (James Hong), put up a valiant but ultimately comical pursuit – that is, seeing too how the Furious Five, like Jackie Chan’s Monkey and Angelina Jolie’s Tigress, are nowhere to be found in this instalment.

Except for a twist before the third act regarding Zhen’s true allegiance, the plot is otherwise not just lean but also straightforward – and indeed, there are no prizes for guessing whom Po will eventually pass the mantle of Dragon Warrior to by the end of the adventure. As is typical Dreamworks formula therefore, the charm lies in the various set-pieces directed with much verve by Mike Mitchell (‘Trolls’, ‘The Lego Movie’), including a bar brawl in a tavern set on a teetering cliff or a police chase through Juniper City that is particularly memorable for reworking the classic gag of a bull in a china shop.

To their credit, the ensemble voice cast is an absolute blast, starting with the inimitable Jack Black as the older but no less lively Po, the equally vivacious Awkwafina as the wily and quick-witted Zhen, and the commanding Davis as the sinister Chameleon complete with a dour aristocratic hauteur. Mitchell has the cast to thank for keeping up with the frenetic pace, especially given the feverish tempo at which the movie throws out gag after punchline, and we dare say it is thanks to them that ‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ retains the pizazz of the earlier movies.

As understandable as it may be that the filmmakers have opted to play it safe, it is no doubt somewhat disappointing that the latest chapter sticks largely to formula. Still, there is much to enjoy if you’re looking for a fun and undemanding diversion – besides the cast, there is also the beautiful art direction, illustrated by both the picturesque sights of Juniper City and the acrobatic, wuxia-inspired showdowns. There is clearly hope here for the start of another trilogy, so let’s hope – after establishing the new action-buddy-comedy dynamic of Po and Zhen – the subsequent sequels get bolder in charting a newer and more exciting path for the franchise.

Movie Rating:

(The inimitable Jack Black returns as Po, and thanks to an equally vivacious supporting voice cast, this fun but ultimately safe retread is still an enjoyable watch for the whole family)

Review by Gabriel Chong


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