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Kung Fu Panda 4

Kung Fu Panda 4

Rated PG - for martial arts action/mild violence, scary images and some mild rude humor.
Director: Mike Mitchell, Stephanie Stine
Starring: Voices of Jack Black, Awkwafina, Viola Davis, Bryan Cranston, Dustin Hoffman, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong, Ian McShane
Running Time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Theatrical Release Date: March 8, 2024


Plot Summary

After Po is tapped to become the Spiritual Leader of the Valley of Peace, he needs to find and train a new Dragon Warrior, while a wicked sorceress plans to re-summon all the master villains whom Po has vanquished to the spirit realm. (from IMDb)

Film Review

Although it isn't unusual for DreamWorks to go as far as to release third or fourth entries into their animated series, it may still be surprising to find that, 16 years after its first installment, we now have a fourth Kung Fu Panda film. The previous entry was Kung Fu Panda 3, which released in 2016, so this sequel has the longest span of time between films, at 8 years. So by 2024, do we even need a fourth Kung Fu Panda?

After watching, I have to say that "yes, we do." I loved the first two films, and thought the third movie was good, but we may actually have the funniest one of the bunch with Kung Fu Panda 4. But like how any sequel has to shake things up to keep the stories interesting and engaging, Kung Fu Panda 4 feels a lot different this time around. Most noticeable in the changes is the absence of the "Furious 5," the much more effecient and talented marial arts team that was voiced by the likes of Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, David Cross and Lucy Liu. Po explains them away in a sequence that, admittedly, makes sense, where each is off on their own separate missions, but it still feels odd that they're missing. And with the introduction of Awkwafina as a new fox character named Zhen, it becomes quickly evident that Kung Fu Panda 4 is trying to be something very different for the series. To up that ante even more, Dustin Hoffman's Master Shifu tells Po that it's time for him to pass on the mantle of the Dragon Warrior to a worthy successor, something Po isn't ready to do just yet. Shifu even wants Po to move on up to being the valley's Spiritual Leader, and he's not quite sure he can make the leap (or is worthy to do so). All of this passing-of-the-torch stuff is par for the course for a lot of animated movies these days... and something I don't really feel fans actually want to see. I immediately got some sinking Cars 3 vibes from the trailers for Kung Fu Panda 4, and that's definitely not a good thing.

Thankfully, Kung Fu Panda 4 doesn't forsake what makes these movies so much fun in order to take the story to the next level. Isolating Po from his contemporaries allows him to confront this scary life transition on his own, instead of relying on the wisdom of his friends in the Furious 5. A new threat descends on the valley in the form of The Chameleon, voiced by Viola Davis, who uses her power of shape-shifting to gain control of the nearby villages. Po has a run-in with the thieving Zhen, who accompanies him as a guide to finding The Chameleon in an effort to stop her. The two set out on sort of a buddy journey together, and it brings about a new dynamic for Po and the series itself. Meanwhile, in response to Po going on such a treacherous journey, his adoptive goose father Mr. Ping (James Hong) and his biological panda father Li (Bryan Cranston), set out on their own buddy journey to follow Po in secret support of him. This pairing is definitely the lesser of the two, although it isn't without its heartfelt moments and clever comedic opportunities ("Ping on the cliffside stairs" scene, for example), but it serves as a complementary parallel to what Po is experiencing on his quest with Zhen.

I must say... it's getting to be overkill that Awkwafina seems to be voicing a character in every new animated movie these days (Migration, Raya and the Last Dragon, The Bad Guys, The Little Mermaid, this movie, and still others). Thankfully, she isn't repeating her ultra-obnoxious, sassy performance that she usually does, and dials it back some for Zhen. Is there a better voice choice for this character? Probably. But when all is said and done, I found her performance here to be pretty decent regardless.

The Chameleon is a pretty frightening new villain, mostly because of the creepy visuals she conjures up. Her endgame is to steal the kung fu abilities of masters alive - and dead - and harness them to become the most powerful being in the world, and this makes for some pretty interesting sequences and opportunities. The most notable may be the return of the very first adversary of Po's, Tai Lung, who is voiced by Ian McShane and only appeared in the original 2008 movie. After Po uses the famed "wuxi finger hold" to "skadoosh" the villain straight into the spirit world, The Chameleon must use otherworldly powers to bring Tai Lung back, just to steal his abilities. It's a fun opportunity, no doubt -- especially since Ian McShane is just fantastic in the role -- and it helps strengthen what could naturally serve as a finale for the series (but that's surely an unknown thing at this point).

In revisiting the three preceding movies prior to seeing this fourth one, I found that the original remains the best while Kung Fu Panda 2 may actually be my favorite. I enjoyed the emotional weight of Po coming to grips with his origin story and adoption, and then finding his way to achieving "inner peace" to defeat the very villain that had once slaughtered his panda kind. It's a truly underrated sequel. In comparison, the two succeeding sequels -- Kung Fu Panda 3, and this one -- just don't have that same weight or impact. Sure, they have some emotional moments and moments of triumph for our lovable hero, but they definitely pale in comparison tone-wise. Introducing the panda village and Po's biological father in the third movie was a nice change of pace, as is his grand sacrifice at the end, but it seems to have created a weak spot for part four. Forcing Li and Ping together for a two-father journey isn't the best trade-off for the lack of the Furious 5 or greater presence of Hoffman's Master Shifu. After all, that relationship of respect and friendship between Angelina Jolie's Tigress and Jack Black's Po was one of the highlights of Kung Fu Panda 2. To see these heroes of Po, who HATED him upon his entrance into the fold as the Dragon Warrior, become his closest friends is such an endearing progression in the characters and story. It's definitely amusing to see Po's two dad's palling around together and supporting their son, but in today's age where having two dad's means something less wholesome, it makes the frequent declaration of "We're his dad's!" less heartwarming and more cringy.

The content in Kung Fu Panda 4 is consistent with the previous movies. There's plenty of intense martial arts-style action, but it's never bloody or gory (even if a character is scratched or something). The story, like previous ones, deals with supernatural powers and good versus evil, with the villain pulling kung fu masters out of the afterlife and stealing their abilities for herself. The Chameleon is actually quite creepy -- probably the most intense and creepiest in the series thus far. I imagine younger viewers will find her especially unsettling. There is no profanity, just a play-on-words where we see dozens of guards, who are bulls, emerge from buildings to chase Po. In response to seeing this, he exclaims, "That's a lot of bull!" We adults laughed, but my 13-year-old son didn't get the joke (bless his little heart). There is no sexual content of any kind, and there is a little alcohol use seen inside a pub. Also, the captain of a boat that Po hitches a ride on takes a swig of something from a flask, which causes Po to ask if the captain should be driving if he's drinking.

These movies are truly a delight. Jack Black is fantastic as Po the panda, giving him the perfect amount of boyish, innocent charm and enthusiasm that many kids (and even adults) can relate to. Po continues to be a hero young people can look up to, and is a nice little reminder that even nerdy guys can be heroes and make a difference. (I also absolutely loved seeing Po be a strong, seasoned fighter, and far less bumbling.) Kung Fu Panda 4 is a nice, although probably unnecessary, addition to this series, and I look forward to revisiting it again in the years to come. If you're a fan of the series, don't miss it!

- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 3/8/24)


Parental Guide: Content Summary

. Sex/Nudity: None.
. Vulgarity/Language: None. There is one moment where legions of bull soldiers come to chase Po and Zhen, leading to the priceless joke of Po saying "That's a lot of bull!" but it's minor.
. Alcohol/Drugs: We see characters drinking undefined sudsy steins in a tavern. Later, a pelican that has a talking fish in its mouth, downs a beverage, causing another character to quip, "That guy drinks like a fish!" and for Po to question whether it's safe or not for him to be driving.
. Blood/Gore: None.
. Violence: Lots of cartoon/animated violence consitent with previous Kung Fu Panda films. Villainous characters threaten, attack and beat up on weaker townsfolk. Po battles bad guys throughout the movie, using his martial arts skills. There's lots of slapstick violence, too, in the midst of these fights; Zhen and Po fight inside the Hall of Heroes as she tries to steal valuable artifacts and Po tries to stop her. Some objects are destroyed in the process; A couple times, characters fall from great heights and are briefly presumed dead before it is revealed that they survived; The Chameleon brings dead kung fu back to life using mystical powers, and then sucks their powers out of their bodies and uses them for herself. She fights off Po and then Zhen, and even turns into a giant kaiju that is a mix of different creatures; Po is trapped in a metal cage at one point; Po gets trapped behind metal again later in the film; There's a sequence where Po and Zhen are chased by a large number of guards in a city that are bulls; We see a fighting sequence where Po defeats a group of armed soldiers, but it's shown only in silhouette.


Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.

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