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Review: Kung Fu Panda 4 (2024)

Kung Fu Panda 4 (2024)

Directed by: Mike Mitchell and Stephanie Stine

Premise: Po (voice of Jack Black) recruits a pickpocket named Zhen (Awkwafina) to locate a shapeshifting sorceress (Viola Davis) who is absorbing the powers of previously vanquished villains.

What Works: Kung Fu Panda 4 partially brings the series back to the beginning by putting Po in the role of the master who must take on an apprentice. It’s an admirable story development. It gives the series some sense of shape and plays to viewers who have been watching this series since the first installment debuted in 2008. Kung Fu Panda 4 pairs Po with a streetwise pickpocket named Zhen. Jack Black and Awkwafina are a fun comedic pair and this film makes good use of their natural delivery with the design and the animation matching the character of their voices. The animation of Kung Fu Panda 4 occasionally impresses especially the action scenes. As this series has continued, the animation has become increasingly stylized and there are some exceptional images in this film. It’s a successful mix of martial arts action and physical comedy. That’s always been the core appeal of this series and Kung Fu Panda 4 delivers what audiences expect from these movies.

What Doesn’t: Kung Fu Panda 4 feels like it is supposed to be a capstone for the series but it doesn’t quite succeed. The familiar characters are mostly pushed into the background. Master Shifu (voice of Dustin Hoffman) is barely in the movie and Po’s fathers (voices of James Hong and Bryan Cranston) don’t have much to do. Previous installments developed Po’s relationships with his mentors and family and forced him to grow by overcoming adversaries and obstacles. The fourth movie doesn’t do that. The filmmakers do move Po forward by putting him in the position of a mentor to a younger upstart but he’s still the same character he has been for the last couple of movies. Po doesn’t grow into the mentor role. Neither he nor Zhen really learn anything about themselves or grow as characters. The returning villains are underutilized. There is no reason to bring them back. Po doesn’t confront his legacy and these characters could be anyone. The final confrontation between Po and Zhen and the sorceress doesn’t really pay off anything. If this is supposed to wrap up the series, it doesn’t bring the overall story to much of a conclusion.  

Bottom Line: Kung Fu Panda 4 works well enough as a piece of entertainment and it provides the mix of action and comedy that have made this series successful. But the film also retreads a lot of what we’ve seen before and doesn’t do enough with its story and characters.

Episode: #989 (March 24, 2024)