10 Apr 2024

At The Movies - Kung Fu Panda 4

From At The Movies, 7:00 pm on 10 April 2024

Jack Black tackles Po's final Dragon Warrior adventure with his usual exuberance​, says Simon Morris, but the animation is what carries Kung Fu Panda 4.

Despite having minimal interest in either kung fu or the often overblown animation of Dreamworks Studio, I have fond memories of the original Kung Fu Panda movies - were they 15 years ago?

The story of overweight panda Po who surprised everyone - including himself - to become leader of kung fu heroes the Furious Five, was sweet-natured, funny and particularly well-cast.

The secret of its success, and that of its two sequels, was Jack Black - born to play Po - and a star-studded support cast including Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogan, Jackie Chan and particularly Angelina Jolie as Tigress, Po's best friend and strongest critic.

No Angelina this time, sadly, as Po is told that his days as mere Dragon Warrior are now over, and he's about to be kicked upstairs as Grand Master.

But first Po must pick a new Dragon Warrior, and then start practising that spiritual leadership thing.

Meanwhile, Kung Fu Panda 4's villain is warming up in the wings - someone who has the shape-shifting ability to conjure up, and then impersonate, some of Po's past enemies.

Including Ian McShane as Tai Lung, the - we thought - dead leopard.

In Kung Fu Panda world everyone is some sort of animal. And the villainous shape-shifter - Viola Davis, who seems to be getting into a badass villainess rut at the moment - is none other than The Chameleon. What else?

Po needs help from someone who knows about The Chameleon, and that turns out to be a small but feisty fox called Zhen, played by small but feisty Awkwafina.

Chalk, meet cheese, in other words.

So, before devoting his life to inner peace, Po takes off on one more Dragon Warrior adventure, with an unreliable fox at his side.

Expect the pair to get into a bunch of scrapes as they tackle the dreaded The Chameleon and her army of - why not? - listless Komodo dragons.

Jack Black carries the movie with his usual exuberance, but he gets decent support from Awkwafina as a sort of Artful Dodger with possibly ulterior motives.

Certainly, her old friends don't trust her as far as they can throw her. Mind you, you can throw a small fox quite a long way.

It's a series that possibly benefits if you've got a working knowledge of matters kung fu, or indeed Chinese.

The visual style of the series has always been a cut above, and Chinese-American co-director Stephanie Stine keeps that up. In fact the animation is one of the main attractions of Kung Fu Panda 4.

Would I have liked it as much if the competition hadn't been so relentlessly bloody this week? Possibly not, and I have to say I missed the presence of Angelina Jolie and Seth Rogen, who was reduced, as far as I can tell, to one syllable in Kung Fu Panda 4.

But at least no pandas were hurt in the making of this film.

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