Kung Fu Panda 4 Review

Kung Fu Panda 4
Panda and ‘Dragon Warrior’ Po (Jack Black) must hand his title to someone new — but he is interrupted when the Chameleon (Viola Davis) threatens the world.

by Olly Richards |
Published on
Release Date:

08 Mar 2024

Original Title:

Kung Fu Panda 4

Eight years after Kung Fu Panda 3, and 15 years since the franchise first began, Po returns. There’s no radical new direction for this resurrection, but more of the slick, pacy and beautifully animated fun fans will be used to. Like the Minions series, this is reliable entertainment — never really pushing any boundaries, but likely to keep the kids quiet for about 90 minutes.

Kung Fu Panda 4

To briefly catch up on where we left things: Po (voiced by Jack Black) is a panda who is both kung fu master and clumsy glutton. Chosen as the ‘Dragon Warrior’, he is China’s greatest fighter, even though his dedication to his craft is minimal. He’s the adopted son of a goose (James Hong), student of an exasperated red panda (Dustin Hoffman), and saviour of many imperilled animals. Each instalment sees Po face off with a scheming villain plotting to become the most powerful being on the planet. This time it’s Chameleon (Viola Davis), a shape-shifting lizard who wants to transform into the biggest criminal boss the world has ever known.

It’s rather streamlined since the previous, lavish film.

On this adventure — and with an apparent eye on future franchise potential — Po has a sidekick. Zhen (Awkwafina), a fox, is a thief who’s only out for herself. She’s also a very handy fighter. Zhen has no interest in working with others, but (for reasons of plot convenience rather than logic) agrees to join Po in his quest to find the Chameleon, after he frees her from jail. Po is readying himself to hand the Dragon Warrior title to someone new. Where could he possibly find the ideal candidate?

It’s rather streamlined since the previous, lavish film. The star cast has been shrunk (no Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, et al), the canvas feels a little smaller and the fight sequences a bit less grand. This is not always necessarily a negative. It works well as an action-buddy-comedy in the solid hands of director Mike Mitchell (Trolls, The Lego Movie). Black and Awkwafina make a sparky team — if future films lean on her, she seems entirely able to bear the weight — and a very lean plot gives plenty of space for big comedy set-pieces, like a bar brawl in a tavern teetering on a cliff, or a police chase through a criminal city. It’s a shame Davis isn’t given more opportunities for laughs as Chameleon, but she fills the character’s small frame with lots of sinister gravitas.

The previous Kung Fu Panda movie pushed the series into more epic territory, with the apparent belief it was concluding the story. This is hedging its bets, seeding a number of possibilities for future movies. It’s safe and fairly predictable, but still a good time.

A step back from the last film in terms of ambition, this nevertheless continues the series’ chirpy, amiable mood. Nothing to be po-faced about here.
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