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‘Kung Fu Panda 4’: An incomplete mess of a cash-grab

Opinion Editor Devin Ankeney didn’t find “Kung Fu Panda 4” to be very bodacious
Opinion Editor Devin Ankeney didn’t find “Kung Fu Panda 4” to be very bodacious

Like most people my age, I have a few animated kids movies I’m quite fond of. 

“WALL-E,” “Ratatouille” and “Megamind” are just a few that come to mind as films that shaped my childhood. When I rewatch those movies today, I still feel as captivated as I did when I was just a little kid.

“Kung Fu Panda” used to be one of those movies. I mean, it’s a panda voiced by Jack Black who does Kung Fu. What’s not to love?

The early entries in the series were certainly more well-crafted. There’s a reason a fourth movie was made, after all. But, after watching “Kung Fu Panda 4” in theaters, hoping to have a child-like experience, it’s clear that this movie was made only to make money off the brand recognition.

From top to bottom, this film felt unfinished. The animation style felt stale, and the fight scenes were uninspired and lazy. One fight scene, in particular, consisted of only silhouettes of the characters. This wasn’t an interesting use of stylization, but a quick-to-distribution version of what could’ve been an interesting sequence.

The story follows Po (Jack Black) as he sets out to go on one last quest as the Dragon Warrior. His master, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), wants him to follow in the footsteps of Oogway from the first film. Shifu wants Po to become a Spiritual Leader of the Valley of Peace and find a successor.

All too quickly, Po stumbles upon a fox named Zhen (Awkwafina). She’s a thief but it becomes instantly clear that she’ll turn from bad to good and ultimately take the mantle of Dragon Warrior.

But the pacing was a mess. The opening was painfully similar to that of Tai Lung’s (Ian McShane) entrance in the first film. Within mere minutes, Po is on an adventure with an unlikely companion to go and seek glory in the latter years of his Dragon Warrior career.

There were no surprises in “Kung Fu Panda 4.” The arc from unlikely companion to ultimate hero (with a not-so-climactic backstabbing) is obvious from the get-go. 

Further, the film is quite literally unfinished. On at least one occasion, the middle of a sentence cuts to a new scene. That is not supposed to happen, and it’s a jaw-droppingly moronic oversight that made me think the production was handled by AI companions.

I found myself scoffing at maybe a half-dozen jokes. I had a genuine laugh no more than three times. Though, I’m not including the one-word MrBeast cameo which had me bent over and nearly in tears, cracking up at the state of sequels in the past few years.

Everything painful about this shamelessly formulaic film comes to a head when one of Po’s farts wakes up the villain’s army. A fart joke. Comedy gold.

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The villain, a chameleon cleverly named … The Chameleon … and voiced by Viola Davis, has some thoroughly pleasing moments visually, as her character can change into any of Po’s past foes. But, it ultimately leaves me wanting more from an animation department that clearly is capable of more than the same-old emptiness that we’ve been forced to get used to.

The only genuinely redeemable quality of this movie is James Hong’s performance of Po’s father, Mr. Ping. At 95, Hong can still churn out memorable performances, and I’ll always be thrilled to see his name on the roster of any project he can get his hands on.

The “Kung Fu Panda” brand has simply lost what made it good. Stylized visuals, beautiful fight scenes and genuine humor from Jack Black — who ultimately is forgetful in this role, which pains me as a fan of his — all made this series great back in the day.

The Furious Five weren’t even in this film except for in the credit roll scene where the only vocal performance we got was a likely old recording of a Seth Rogen grunt for Mantis. During this credit roll scene, we get to hear Jack Black’s cover of Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time.” While it was funny at best, it felt stale, hollow and without the passion he has brought to other projects he cares about.

The Furious Five was arguably the most interesting part of past “Kung Fu Panda” films, and it’s hard to tell if the filmmakers thought losing them was a good idea, or if they were too lazy to wait until everyone’s schedules worked together.

Ultimately, “Kung Fu Panda 4” is a painfully bad film that hurts my formerly fond memory of the franchise. I hoped that I was going to like it, but I fear the multi-generational kids flick might be an untenable breed of movie. 

Much of this film set up future releases in the franchise. Rest assured, I won’t be seated for any of them.

Rating: 3/10