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‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ Review

Kickin’ It With Kung Fu!
Photo Courtesy of Sherry Anderson: Pictured Catherine Forrester (left) Fatimah Bouri (right)
Photo Courtesy of Sherry Anderson: Pictured Catherine Forrester (left) Fatimah Bouri (right)

Fatimah’s Part:

Imagine being me: a college student eating and sleeping off of endless post-travel stress. Then, your amazing friend group decides to go see the fourth installment of the Kung Fu Panda franchise. What a dream, right?

It certainly was! Since I was a kid, I have adored Kung Fu Panda as a series. As an adult, I appreciate the wit and humor of this franchise even more. The first movie was inspiring and loaded with grit, and the second movie added transformative nuance to internalized trauma. The third movie doesn’t have the impeccable charm of the first two installments, but it is still a perfectly valid movie to end the series. Good things come in threes, right? 

Wrong! The world was in desperate need of kung fu ferocity and so we were blessed by the Dreamworks deities with Kung Fu Panda 4! I won’t lie; the trailer hyping this up didn’t exactly impress me. Wow, we have a seemingly bland villain who just brings back all the villains from the previous movies? How … interesting and … innovative … 

At least, the movie was more interesting than what the trailer hinted at. First of all, it’s a buddy cop movie, which may seem like a generic cop-out, but it isn’t poorly executed. Yes, the jokes may not land as well as they have before, but Po and Zhen have a cool sibling dynamic going on which I appreciate. Oh, did I mention that this movie has a new character? She’s a cunning fox and thief named Zhen, voiced by Awkwafina. I know Awkwafina has been cast in nearly every role imaginable, and the online masses are sick of her – with some even comparing her to Chris Pratt – but I will give her this: her voice acting isn’t bad and fits the sly sassiness of the character. Also, I appreciate the fact that they don’t try to make her a ripoff of Tigress. 

Speaking of Tigress, where was the Furious Five? I know they weren’t a tremendous staple of the franchise, but the fact that they barely had a presence here is strange to me. Perhaps it was supposed to go with the whole theme of change. 

The plot seems standard; Po needs to find a new dragon warrior but can’t seem to accept the change since being the dragon warrior gives him meaning. However, a shape-shifting lizard named The Chameleon (yes, very generic name, I know) threatens to take over the Valley of Peace, and Po must do whatever he can to defeat her – with the help of his new sidekick! Add a slapstick action sequence and it makes for a perfectly average, fun film! 

However, by far, the best points of the film were the scenes with Po’s two dads, Mr. Ping and Li. I’m being completely serious when I say that They NEED their own film or mini-series! I know they aren’t canonically in a relationship, but I beg to differ. Yes, I will say that the Kung Fu Panda franchise champions gay parenting, and I will die on that hill! 

Also, I did find the message on accepting change to be heartwarming and very much needed. As someone who has been through many changes so far this year, I needed to hear how change, as much as you may resist it, can lead to you blossoming as a person. And, the fact that this lesson was delivered by Mr. Ping himself makes it all the better! 

Now, I don’t want to offend the Kung Fu Panda fandom (Kung Fu Pan-dom? Panda Pals?), but why did they keep Master Shifu around? Sorry, but he just didn’t serve much of a purpose in the film besides getting Po to go against him and recruit Zhen. 

Although the movie falls short in terms of comedy and the emotional highs from the first two (or three if we want to stretch a bit), watching this movie was whimsical and made me feel young again. I’m not sure if we, as a society, need a fifth film, but if it’s at least equally average as this one, then I will welcome it with open arms … as long as Jack Black sings another cover of an iconic song! 

Cat’s Part: 

Life as a college student can suck especially when coming back from spring break to lovely mid-terms to make its grand appearance in our lives. The one thing getting me through what I would like to refer to as one of the hardest weeks of the spring semester was watching this movie with my friend group. I don’t know if this influenced the way that I saw the movie but it gave me the serotonin that I needed after a long week in the books. 

I don’t exactly remember my first encounter with the Kung Fu Panda franchise, but I do remember rewatching it during my freshman year of college during a dorm floor event. What’s funny is after we watched it a praying mantis appeared on the fourth-floor window of Main Hall — was this a sign that we should watch more of the franchise? Also, how did it get all the way up on the fourth-floor window is what I would love to know.

In the previous movies, the villains were the main point of the story with complex arcs which made them such engrossing characters because there was a reason why they were committing the act. I think the villain, The Chameleon, was generic and didn’t have an original backstory. There was so much potential for this character, but they threw it in the trash. Plus, a villain named The Chameleon is a lame name, in my opinion. Where do the original ideas of DreamWorks tell me I need to know? 

By the way, where are the Furious Five? I need to know why they made an appearance until the credits scene! I understand if they are planning to make a gateway to a new franchise and are trying to introduce new characters, but I still think you should include the original characters at least for a few minutes. I know Grand Master Oogway died in the last movie, but the fact that he didn’t make an appearance while they were doing things with the spirit realm is crazy to me. They could have easily given him a little cameo during the movie, which would suffice. Honestly, he is such an iconic character in the overall franchise, and I would love to see him in the fifth movie that has been announced as being in the works. 

Also, tell me why there is going to be a fifth movie because I think it should have ended with the third movie. It feels more like a reboot than an actual sequel, and it doesn’t add anything to the plot, which potentially creates another gateway to another series in the franchise with a new plotline. I also didn’t realize it had been eight years since the third movie was released back in 2016, which gives me the impression that the third movie should have closed up the franchise. DreamWork always surprises us with the unexpected because hearing that this movie was coming out this year was a surprise to me. 

The music was superb, but when they had a rendition of Crazy Train, I think I might have lost it with how fantastic it was. When they ended with a rendition of the song Hit Me Baby One More Time sung by Tenacious, it was my overall favorite part of the movie. Thanks, Jack Black for always serving banger songs for your movies; it’s very much appreciated! The visuals didn’t disappoint either, especially with the updated DreamWorks intro. I wonder if it would have been better to watch it in 3D because it would add another element to the movie. 

The overall theme of this movie is that change can help your life even though it can be scary which is seen through Zhen, Po’s fathers Mr. Ping and Li, and Po himself. I can relate to this as a college student because we are in that part of our lives that deals with a lot of changes that can seem scary at first. 


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