Picture this: Po (voiced by Jack Black), the titular panda of the Kung Fu Panda franchise, is faced with a challenge. He rises to the challenge against all odds, defeats the antagonist, and emerges victorious. Add to all this a splash of humour, beautiful visuals and a philosophical word or two from Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), and you have the essence of Kung Fu Panda. It sounds like a good enough concept until you realise it’s the basis of all three Kung Fu Panda movies.
In Kung Fu Panda 3, Po faces off against Kai (J. K. Simmons), a spirit warrior out to steal the warriors’ chi. By this time, Po has to learn chi and become a master of kung fu. As Kai defeats warrior after warrior, Po builds an army by training the occupants of a mysterious panda village. Successive catastrophes make it difficult to imagine anyone emerging from the conflict in one piece (I mean, a bunch of tubby pandas against a surprisingly toned yak?), which effectively builds suspense. The lead up to the final face-off is thus well executed.
If DreamWorks is really aiming to capture the audience’s attention, maybe it would be better to start afresh.
Compared to some sequels, it definitely falls into the positive end of the spectrum, but despite favourable reviews, however, it cannot be ignored that the movie has ranked lowest amongst the three worldwide. According to Box Office Mojo, it stood at number 152, while Kung Fu Panda and Kung Fu Panda 2 ranked 97 and 90 respectively.
They say you can’t have too much of anything. Well, it looks like the public just might have had enough of Po. Apart from three movies, the Kung Fu Panda franchise also includes five short films, video games, an arena show, and a themed land in the Dreamworld theme park, with another three movies and a short film to be released. These enterprises not only keep us in touch with the franchise, but also try much too hard to keep it alive in between films.Whilst it’s fun to follow the characters’ exploits, there should be a limit; we don’t want to know about their every move. Why not leave some things to the imagination?
Now, five short films and three movies later, that initial surprise has faded.
Sequels in general lack the intrigue of the original films. Nothing I see in the later movies can rival the moment I first saw Po on screen and laughed at the line “The warrior said nothing, for his mouth was full.” Getting to know him and watching him become the Dragon Warrior was far more interesting than watching him battle one villain after another, simply because I had never seen anything like it before.
Watching that first movie was like going on a rollercoaster for the first time. Now, five short films and three movies later, I can practically see what’s coming and whilst it’s still fun, that same enthusiasm is difficult to muster unless the plot is radically different. Even with the subplots unique to itself, Kung Fu Panda 3 has unfortunately become a rollercoaster I’ve ridden one too many times. There are times when sequels are a necessity, when audiences want to know what happens next. In this case, the loose ends had already been tied by the end of the first movie. Anything beyond that feels like unnecessary background information.
Still, after learning that three more movies are in the works, it’s difficult to guess whether the franchise is working hard to bring us some classic stories, or to make itself as much money as possible. Granted, these various ventures need imagination and hard work, but if DreamWorks is really aiming to capture the audience’s attention, they might be better off starting afresh.