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Review: ‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ misses the punchline

Courtesy Universal Pictures

By Kristal Hanson     3/19/24 10:26pm

Score: ★★★

Kristal hanson

“Kung Fu Panda 4” brings us back into the vibrant world of Po and his kung fu adventures. The movie kicks off with a playful nod to the franchise’s own commercial success as Mr. Ping unveils his new noodle shop: Dragon Warrior Noodles and Tofu. However, the absence of the Furious Five, beloved warriors of the franchise, disappoints both characters in the film and the audience. 

While the film retains its trademark fun, some jokes crash like the Urn of Whispering Warriors. Although the comedy wasn’t up to par with its predecessors, it’s hard to not find some joy in the antics of a giant panda that knows kung fu and loves dumplings.

Visually, “Kung Fu Panda 4” dazzles with its stunning scenery. Yet, like with some of the jokes, there was no time to appreciate the gorgeous shots. I found myself wishing for a pause at moments like the iconic cherry blossom tree and the introduction to Juniper City seen in past movies. 

“Kung Fu Panda 4” stays true to the franchise tradition of sharing a lesson. The wisdom imparted in this film was “it’s never too late to do the right thing,” as one of the characters says. Po forgives Zhen, who had betrayed him, showing that mistakes don’t define us forever. There’s a missed opportunity in not delving deeper into the redemption arcs of the villains that were brought back from the spirit realm. Shifu could have mended his relationship with Tai Lung, which would have added more emotional depth to the narrative. 

That said, the introduction of Zhen, the new dragon warrior, injects a fresh energy into the franchise. Zhen serves as a Robin Hood-esque character with her hood and underground gang of criminals. Additionally, her unique backstory and mannerisms set her apart. Zhen’s progress throughout the movie from thief to hero makes her step into the role of dragon warrior fitting.

However, the decision to pass on the dragon warrior mantle from Po feels abrupt, lacking a solid motivation that aligns with the established lore. Shifu says it’s time for Po to give up being dragon warrior and to become a spiritual leader, but Oogway didn’t appoint a dragon warrior until he was on his deathbed. 

Chameleon, the villain, also has a motivation that misses the mark, as her rejection from kung fu feels unconvincing. Unlike previous films, where villains’ origins are explored through flashbacks, Chameleon's backstory feels less developed and relies too heavily on her word. The lack of motivation behind Po and the Chameleon detracts from the overall narrative.

Despite its shortcomings, “Kung Fu Panda 4” delivers a hefty dose of fun that fans of the franchise will appreciate. Po’s quirks, like his exhaustion climbing stairs and his prowess in kung fu, remain central to the film’s charm. Whether it’s the sheer absurdity of a giant panda and tiny bunnies kung fu fighting or the delight of the new character Zhen, there’s no denying the infectious energy of the movie. Even when it falters, its heartwarming message of redemption and the introduction of a new dragon warrior ensures that kung fu adventures continue to captivate audiences, even if they don’t reach the heights of past installments. 

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