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The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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“Kung Fu Panda 4” Adds Another Dumpling to Po’s Story

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After an eight-year hiatus from the big screen, it seemed as if our goofy and beloved dragon warrior’s journey had come full circle after reuniting with his birth father in Kung Fu Panda 3 and becoming grand master of the Valley of Peace.

 

However, Kung Fu Panda 4 quickly shows there is still much work for Po to finish in the Valley of Peace as its new leader.

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The plot of Kung Fu Panda 4 is quite recognizable from that of previous Kung Fu Panda movies. He sets off on a mission with a companion to fight a foe with a skillset he hasn’t quite seen before and ultimately learns something new about what it means to be a master of kung fu. However, this entry’s version of a supporting cast doesn’t contain any members of the beloved Furious Five and instead opts to move Po’s story along with Zhen, a fox from a nearby big city, voiced by Awkwafina.

 

But this new character aids Po’s story in a way that hasn’t necessarily been explored yet in a Kung Fu Panda movie. As a thief who blurs the line between good and evil in certain moments. However, that’s all it ends up being, moments because by the end of the film, it is still a clear battle of good vs evil, which can be a bit confusing to the audience in some aspects.

 

Simply put, a lot of the plot has to do with the newness in Po’s life that he has to get used to a new position of authority and wisdom to try to transition to, a new friend he has to integrate into his life, and a new foe that gives Po a new challenge to overcome. 

 

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The choice to not include the Furious Five is an intriguing one, to say the least, but makes a clear statement that the series is attempting to embrace change, just like its main character. However, the Furious Five’s screen time and dialogue were always done in good taste in the past, without any real interruption to the plot, tone, and pacing of the previous Kung Fu Panda. The same can’t be said for Zhen’s role in the film, as a comedic undertone that doesn’t really hit early on along with some of the key plot moments. Ultimately, the film doesn’t necessarily gain anything from leaving the Furious Five out and makes the film a bit more predictable by the end result.

 

Po’s main antagonist presents itself as an intimidating new problem for Po, whom they call the Chameleon. The Chameleon is a menacing villain that benefits a lot from the animation style of any scene that she shape-shifts in. Viola Davis voices the Chameleon and gives the character a real sense of scariness, although perhaps not on the same level as Kung Fu Panda 2’s “Lord Shen” might in other viewers.

 

The adventure of Kung Fu Panda is fun and fast, sitting pretty at a 94-minute run-time, which is perfect for a kid’s adventure like what Kung Fu Panda should be. The pacing seems to go fine and moves along great for a film of this nature that doesn’t need to drag on any longer. 

The animation is in no way anything less than we would expect from previous Kung Fu Panda films, with high-flying, over-the-top, wacky fight scenes with animals jumping all over the place, as would be expected from a Kung Fu Panda film, so rest assured the action is all the more satisfying and will certainly bring a chuckle out of viewers.

 

Kung Fu Panda 4 brings viewers much of the same Po we knew from the previous entries and Jack Black’s performance is witty and fluent and proves yet again that he is one of only a few that could pull off voicing a character like Po. There’s a great balance of moments of pure humor and pure heart that not many actors can bring out of an animated character. 

 

An aspect of the franchise Kung Fu Panda that many may overlook due to the hilarious comedy bits and action sequences is the wisdom and life lessons that each entry contains as a hidden message. In the previous entries, the life lessons that were contained seemed to be very open and easy to understand. This entry also contains some valuable lessons for kids to understand, but they don’t hit the same degree of emotion that previous entries have been able to do.

 

SPOILERS SECTION

 

The film begins with a visit from master Shifu at Po’s family restaurant, telling Po that he needs to begin looking at a new candidate for the Dragon warrior as his successor and advance to become the spiritual leader and mentor at the Valley of Peace. This means Po’s days as the Dragon Warrior are numbered and he obviously doesn’t enjoy this.

 

The decision to move Po away from the Dragon Warrior title would have been a useful one to move his story forward as a character, however, by the end of the, you don’t really feel as if Po has made progress as a character. He’s still the same comedic Po by the end of it and doesn’t REALLY feel all that much wiser, just wise enough to get past the current villain on his agenda in the movie.

 

Zhen ends up being Po’s replacement as the dragon warrior, but this doesn’t come as any surprise whatsoever and is clear after only a few minutes of interaction between the two, that Zhen would probably receive the dragon warrior title. Having the furious five in the movie at least could have aided to this surprise a bit more, but ultimately it was easily suspected.

 

An entertaining sub-plot of the film contains both of Po’s father figures, Mr. Ping and Li-shan, as they try to cope with their mutual eeriness of finding out where Po is at and wanting to keep tabs on their son. It makes for an entertaining pair and they have great chemistry together in the minimal screen-time they have with each other.

 

The final act of the movie finds Po being betrayed by Zhen, as she was working for the Chameleon all along. As Po tries to fiddle his way out of the situation, he gains back the help of Zhen, as well as an army that Zhen recruits from her adoptive home. Po hears his encouraged by Master Shifu’s aura to attempt to stop the chameleon with his words, before “kicking butt”. 

 

However, this attempt goes quickly awry and Shifu tells Po to try it his way now. This attempt to make Po into this character of wisdom is anticlimactic and confusing to build up the idea of Po becoming a wiser Kung Fu master than he previously was. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t a fun adventure, however, there was potential of the film being much better on the script side than it ended up being.

 

Verdict: 7.5/10

Ultimately, the adventure of Kung Fu Panda 4 pays off as a fun rendition of the franchise, albeit guilty of a confusing decision to leave the Furious Five out of the picture. Po is once again magnificent and intriguing in this new role as Grand Master. Zheng weighs down the picture early on, but her development gets better as the film progresses. The mixture of comedy, action, and wholesomeness keeps it as a worthy entry to the beloved series. Although, one might call this a “safe” entry to the franchise, with some plot points being a bit confusing and anticlimactic, this is still a fun entry into one of the better Dreamworks franchise’s.

 

It seems as if Kung Fu Panda will be moving in a different direction with Po moving forward, with one more similar to that of his former mentor, Grand Master Oogway. It’s a risky move for the franchise and one that seems to imply more films revolving around his relationship with Zheng to protect the Valley of Peace. However, as long as future films continue the Kung Fu Panda formula of comedy mixed with over-the-top action, the series is in good hands.

 

Graduate Assistant Joseph Bernard can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Jojobernard2001. 

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