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Kung-Fu Panda 4
         review by Bobby Blakey

When the original Kung Fu Panda hit theaters in 2008 it delivered one of the best animated films of its kind and still manages to hold up today. With its success it was no surprise when they unleashed sequels in both 2011 and 2016 as well as numerous TV series and shorts. Now Po is back once again for the latest outing Kung Fu Panda 4 once again starring Jack Black alongside Viola Davis, Awkwafina, Dustin Hoffman, James Hong, Bryan Cranston Ian McShane as Tai Lung, and Ke Huy Quan from Trolls and Shrek Forever After director Mike Mitchell at the helm. Could this latest bring more powerful panda fun or will it no longer be worthy?

Kung Fu Panda 4 follows Po, the Dragon Warrior who is called upon by destiny to become the Spiritual Leader of the Valley of Peace. That poses a couple of obvious problems. First, Po knows as much about spiritual leadership as he does about the paleo diet, and second, he needs to quickly find and train a new Dragon Warrior before he can assume his new lofty position. Even worse, there’s been a recent sighting of a wicked, powerful sorceress, Chameleon, a tiny lizard who can shapeshift into any creature, large or small. Chameleon has her greedy, beady little eyes on Po’s Staff of Wisdom, which would give her the power to re-summon all the master villains whom Po has vanquished to the spirit realm. He finds help in the form of crafty, quick-witted thief Zhen, a corsac fox who really gets under Po’s fur but whose skills will prove invaluable. In their quest to protect the Valley of Peace from Chameleon’s reptilian claws, this comedic odd-couple duo will have to work together. In the process, Po will discover that heroes can be found in the most unexpected places.

 

This is one of those rare franchises where every film in the series has been excellent. Each has brought something new to the table that evolved the character while keeping its charm and pace. I honestly felt that after the last film that was it. It gave a good cap to the story and didn’t really need more but here we are. Thankfully this one not only delivers once again it actually brings all 3 previous films full circle and offers closer to the entire franchise should it choose to.

 

One of the things that I really have loved about Po’s story and even more so in this chapter is that they evolve him into a believable Kung-Fu master able to hold his own while still allowing him to be a buffoon. He walks that thin line of hero and complete screw up, but with every film they allow him to grow into something bigger and not just ditch it the next time around. So many films just rehash the same formula for these kinds of films, and they get redundant, but Po’s growth keeps it interesting and fun.

 

I was bummed but not surprised that they pretty much sidelined the Furious Five this time around. They are not forgotten though and mentioned top explain their absence so the opportunity for them to return at some point keeps them involved. Their absence allows for new characters to be introduced without overcrowding the film and getting lost. While I prefer the Five to the new additions, I still had a good time with this latest outing that still brings everything to the table that we love about these films.

 

Jack Black once again brings an excellent performance to Po and sucks you right back into his martial arts world of action and silliness. The continuation of his two dads now in his life along with his role as Dragon Warrior protecting the town showcases the perfect growth of not only Po’s story, but that of this world they have created. This time around they expand it to a bigger world making everything we had seen before seem smaller including Po himself. They make some great references about his more regional popularity and not as widely known as the Dragon Warrior you might have expected and with it more laughs. There are tons of great new characters and moments to fully push this chapter forward in a great way.

 

Throughout this series the varying martial arts fights and styles have been well crafted and executed with this one being no different. In between the laughs and heart there is a ton of martial arts action alongside supernatural elements that are all kinds of awesome. For a series that didn’t really need any sequels it sure seems to keep churning out excellent entries with this one being another great addition to Po’s story.

 

I kind of hope this is the last of the franchise thanks to such a great ending, but I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t be down for more Dragon Warrior action and laughs in the future. In addition to the film this release offers up bonus content including commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes and more. Join the journey of the chosen one with Kung-Fu Panda 4 available now on digital, 4K, Blu-ray and DVD from Universal Home Entertainment.

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