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The Media Man Reviews: Kung Fu Panda 4

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It's sure been a while, but here we are again with a brand-new Kung Fu Panda movie.

Starting in 2008, Kung Fu Panda became one of DreamWorks Animation's most successful and beloved franchises alongside other franchises such as Shrek, How To Train Your Dragon and Madagascar. The films have routinely been praised for featuring an enjoyably wacky sense of humour, surprisingly powerful emotional moments and big tear-jerking scenes, solid voice-acting and incredible animation that leads to some of the most fast-paced and creative action scenes in an animated movie. The films are a big hit, especially in China, and Kung Fu Panda has spawned numerous of spin-off shows and video-games that all continue the adventures of Po and his friends in the Valley of Peace.

I myself absolutely love the Kung Fu Panda movies...well, the first two at least. Kung Fu Panda 2 in my opinion stands as one of the best movies DreamWorks ever made and is one of the best sequels to an animated film period. Kung Fu Panda 3 I feel was an alright conclusion to the series but wasn't quite as strong as the first two due to the incredibly foolish decision to amp up the wacky comedy at the expense of the deeper story-telling that made the first two films so great. It feels as if DreamWorks thinks people only love Kung Fu Panda for the comedy, when that couldn't be further from the truth. Still, it wrapped up the movies nicely and wouldn't been a good place to finish off...

But then we got a fourth movie and thus that's why we're here today. After seeing the trailer for this film, I was cautiously optimistic. It did hold promise with Tai Lung's return and a menacing new villain. But then the reviews came out and people are REALLY negative towards it. And then came co-director Stephanie Mia Stine came out and revealed some VERY telling behind-the-scenes stuff that really didn't do this film any favours. I mean you need to read this crap, it's pretty unbelievable. The film was going to have HUMANS in it originally, WHAT?! The villains weren't planned to have backstories and Zhen's redemption was going to happen off-screen?! It sounds like a hot mess and it didn't fill me with high hopes for this one. we have our first bad Kung Fu Panda movie? Or is it actually as great as the previous ones? We'll find out as we go kung-fu-fighting into this movie...

Section 1: The Story

Po is loving life as the Dragon Warrior, but that's about to come to an end as Shifu tells Po he needs to find a successor and Po will have to advance from student to master. Po is reluctant, but he has other things to worry about as a fox named Zhen warns him of a powerful villain known as The Chameleon. The two must work together in order to stop her before she can execute her plans for world domination...

I'll give the movie a plus for one thing: the story of Po becoming a master who will pick the next Dragon Warrior is the only logical next step this series can take. I mean what else can we do with Po now he's saved the world three times already? So I'm all for a story about him becoming the new master and having to choose who will be the next Dragon Warrior. The only problem is that the execution sullied what sounded like a great idea.

It's clear that the production of the movie was a mess from what Stephanie Mia Stine revealed, and we can see that it affected the story something fierce because what we got was a pretty mediocre plot that was uninteresting to watch and predictable as all hell. I mean was anyone really surprised whatsoever when Zhen turned out to be the Chameleon's apprentice this whole time and that she was going to turn on her and join Po and become the new Dragon Warrior in the end? They could've been more creative with her backstory but they executed it in the laziest way possible, further proved by how according to Stephanie, Zhen and the Chameleon weren't even meant to have backstories. So instead of just doing a rewrite and doing something inventive, they just took the easy route and gave us this super predictable character arc that made the film uninteresting as a result. The previous films were far less predictable and had more creativity to their stories by comparison.

Speaking of creativity, these films are starting to feel as formulaic as modern superhero movies are nowadays. It's like Kung Fu Panda is incapable of telling any story other than Po and a team of fighters having to journey to a new place to stop the villain with awesome kung-fu action. The trouble is now, it's getting formulaic to the point of not only getting predictable, but feeling lesser compared to the previous movies. Kai was about as high-stakes as the series got so going from him to some sorceress shapeshifter doesn't feel as big as before and the stakes aren't as high as they could've been. Hell, the stakes feel so low compared to the last three films that I could comfortably fit this story into an episode of one of their TV shows and it wouldn't be out of place!

And then there's the most irritating part of the story...the tone. The first two Kung Fu Panda films were revolutionary movies in how they proved a comedic sounding title doesn't mean the films are just comedies. They were able to be both funny and serious with dark moments that added a lot more meat to their bones and added a lot of depth to the story and characters that made them more interesting to watch. But starting from the third movie, they're abandoning that and leaning WAY too much on the comedy now and the fourth movie is the worst example of this. This film, I swear, cannot last five seconds without telling a joke and it's just annoying! They especially use comedy way too often, even in scenes that are supposed to be serious or scary and it just kills the mood as a result. I thought we were past this phase of trying to copy the Mavel Cinematic Universe's overly comedic tones, why are we still doing this crap?! Overemphasizing the comedy does NOT make a movie any funnier, it makes it aggravating! It's so funny how Kung Fu Panda is well loved for its comedy and yet here we have by far the least funny Kung Fu Panda movie to date with any jokes we have here getting slight chuckles out of me at best. Even the second movie was funnier, and that's arguably the darkest and most serious film of the franchise! And because of this overly comedic tone, we have a rushed pace to the movie that doesn't give us time to really feel anything, which just makes the overall movie feel like nothing as a result. The other Kung Fu Panda movies made us feel something, but this one doesn't. There's just very little heart or emotional weight to make the story more engaging, which in turn misses what made Kung Fu Panda so special in the first place.

But the worst part of the story is the wasted potential. The film teased the return of Tai Lung and...he's just there to make the Chameleon look more powerful and he LITERALLY does nothing else. We also have cameos of Lord Shen and Master Kai who only exist for the same reasons. Why is the movie NOT about the Chameleon bringing them back and teaming up with them for revenge against Po? That would've been a much more interesting story than what we got! Hell, why wasn't the story about one of the Furious Five being Po's successor instead of this random nobody? Wouldn't the film have been a lot better and made more sense if TIGRESS was in Zhen's place and the film was about Po and Tigress stopping the past villains after the Chameleon brought them back from the Spirit World for revenge? That would've been awesome! Instead we have the villains returning for nothing, a dumb subplot with Ping and Li Shan, Po's successor being some random nobody and the Furious Five being absent. How anybody thought this was the right move to make, I'll never know. Then again, Stephanie Mia Stine detailed how the writers apparently hated it whenever anybody poked holes in their story so they're clearly not the kind of people who should be in charge of writing.

I'll never understand how it was possible, but somehow DreamWorks did it. They managed to give us a bad Kung Fu Panda story. I never thought I'd see it, but it happened. This studio is such a rollercoaster of quality with their films, let me tell you...

Section 2: The Characters

The story was mediocre as hell, so don't be surprised that the characters got the short end of the stick here.

Po (voiced by Jack Black) is back of course and aside from his comedic traits being amped up too much, I don't think he was too bad here honestly. He was pretty good for the most part and at least still felt like Po. His arc of progressing from student to master was by far the most logical next step for him and it was nice to see him sharing his own bits of wisdom in his own Po way. I also related to him a little due to his insecurities of being unsure of if he's fit for the job. I know I've always had my own insecurities in my abilities sometimes and it made Po very relatable, as he usually is in these films. So yeah, the film may have its flaws, but I can't say anything too negative about Po here.

His successor, Zhen (voiced by Awkwafina) is a different story. She was not interesting whatsoever and had the most boring and predictable character arc they could've given her. I was not at all surprised with how her story went and I feel the movie would've been better off without her. She shouldn't have been created and her entire role should've been given to Tigress instead if you ask me. The only positive I can give Zhen is that we finally have a movie where Awkwafina isn't insufferably annoying for once.

And then we have our new antagonist, The Chameleon (voiced by Viola Davis). I find it so weird how she's the only villain in the series who doesn't have an actual name. What's that about? XD The Chameleon is a step-down from previous villains due to a very weak backstory that is only told to us, once again an example of what a mess the writing was behind-the-scenes given she wasn't planned to have a backstory and was hastily given one at the last minute. This franchise EXCELS at complex villains so it sucks that the Chameleon is so generic. However, she IS still a menacing threat thanks to her shapeshifting powers and magical trickery and she proves to be a pretty cool foe for Po to face so thankfully she wasn't a complete let-down. If they just made her more complex and interesting, she could've been even better is all.

And now we have the side characters with Master Shifu (voiced by Dustin Hoffman), Li Shan (voiced by Bryan Cranston) and Ping (voiced by James Hong). Master Shifu is in the mentor role again as he tries to teach Po how to go from student to teacher but is otherwise largely absent from the movie and by the end, he acts judgemental towards Zhen when Po picks her as a successor, which felt like character regression in my eyes. You'd think Po being chosen as the Dragon Warrior in the first movie would've taught him a lesson or two. Li Shan and Ping just shouldn't have been here in my eyes. Their subplot just adds more unnecessary comedy and their scenes would've been better suited for the Furious Five.

Speaking of, who's bright idea was it to not have them in the movie? I know they've kinda been losing relevance lately but still, the Furious Five are important to the franchise and have contributed in big ways to the previous films so why leave them out? Was it really that important to have Po's dads with their own subplot instead of them?

And then there's Tai Lung (voiced by Ian McShane). His return can be summed up like this:

Tai Lung 1
Tai Lung 2
Tai Lung 3

Why oh why was he so wasted here? His return should've meant something and instead, it

meant nothing. He literally only exists just so the Chameleon can steal his kung-fu and then he does nothing for the rest of the movie. Not only is he portrayed more comically (for some reason), but he doesn't get to join in the final fight against the Chameleon. Imagine the possibilities of him and Po teaming up to stop her during the climax or Po having to face him again after he teams up with the Chameleon? Instead, he's just here for pointless fan-service and I wish he never came back if this was all his role amounted to in the end.

This movie really did focus on the wrong characters a lot of the time and used some of them in the worst way possible. At least Po was fine enough but the rest, not so much...

Section 3: The Animation

Now for the only thing this movie did that was awesome, the visuals.

Kung Fu Panda boasts some of the most impressive visuals ever to come out of DreamWorks Animation and all three of them are still visual spectacles to watch even years later. The fourth film thankfully keeps up this tradition. While the writing is a disaster, at least it still looks visually great.

First of all, the world of Kung Fu Panda still looks as lovely as ever as this ancient China world with anthro-animals populating it. They still make the world look as great as they did in the previous films and the character designs stay very true to the style of Kung Fu Panda. Even all the new characters we see like Zhen and her old criminal friends look like they fit right into the world of Kung Fu Panda with nobody looking out of place. The Chameleon of course is the most visually striking new character here as this small, unassuming reptilian woman dressed in regal looking attire that makes her look as if she has a huge position of power and can shapeshift into whatever she desires. The animators really take advantage of this by having the Chameleon shapeshift for intimidation purposes or to let out all her fighting capabilities during the action scenes. It was especially pretty cool to watch her transform into Po's past enemies and use their fighting abilities to battle him. Would've been nicer if it was actually Tai Lung, Lord Shen and General Kai fighting themselves and not a copycat but still, it was cool to see her do that. I especially love the added details on how the Chameleon's transformed appearances still have a scaly texture to them no matter who she's imitating. Even when transforming into Po, she's depicted with scales instead of fur to make it easier to tell who's who in the fight. It only makes sense since she wouldn't be able to imitate other textures after all.

And of course, given we're in the 2020 decade, the visuals are noticeably upgraded from the previous films. The fur, scales and hair on all the animal looks more realistic and convincing, the lighting looks more natural and the character models look a little smoothed out if you get what I mean. The previous films still look amazing, don't get me wrong, but if you compare this to the first movie, you can see how much of a difference there is. So naturally the movie is just gorgeous to look at throughout with some lushly detailed environments and lots of colour everywhere. There's Juniper City in where it's this really big, bustling city with so many people around that there's not much space to move, a sharp contrast to the Valley of Peace where everywhere looks quieter and more settled and there's not so many people around. I thought the Chameleon's lair looked pretty imposing too as this huge castle atop a large mountain and it was a neat detail that her throne bears a striking resemblance to herself.

And of course, it wouldn't be Kung Fu Panda without kickass action scenes and this film delivers them in spades. We have some fantastic choreography throughout with the characters pulling off all sorts of crazy moves and using the environment and their surroundings in creative and inventive ways to fight their enemies, while also getting some gag opportunities out of them too. The fight between Po, Zhen and the people at the tavern especially took advantage of the unstable tavern setting and how it could fall over at any moment. The highlights of course where the battles with the Chameleon and her shapeshifting abilities. They go overboard with them to the point she becomes this monstrous hybrid creature and it's pretty insane to watch, let me tell you! So those who watch Kung Fu Panda for the action scenes will be happy to know that they deliver on them and still make them the visual highlights of the film.

As much as the overly comedic tone annoys me, I do give credit that the animation really makes the most of it with a lot of fast-paced gags and funny expressions to try and make the jokes work. While I didn't find it a very funny movie, I can tell EASILY the animators were having a blast animating this film and most've had a lot of fun doing these over-the-top gags. The battle in the tavern especially must've been a good time for them.

So yeah, the writing is the weakest of all the Kung Fu Panda movies, but the animation is certainly not weak by any standards. They're still able to make Kung Fu Panda look as awesome as it did in the previous films...


Kung Fu Panda should've ended with the third movie. Jeffery Katzenberg may have planned for this series to have six films, but this film proves why he shouldn't be sticking to that plan. The story is severely lacking, the comedic tone has been amped up to the point it's more annoying than funny, the characters have super-predictable arcs and there's so much wasted potential. It's so pathetic when the highlight of the movie was hearing Jack Black and his band, Tenacious D, sing Brittney Spears's "Hit Me Baby One More Time", and that SHOULDN'T be a highlight! I love Kung Fu Panda, but even I can't defend this mouldy dumpling of a movie. It had no business being as bad as it was. Maybe the crew should've listened to Stephanie Mia Stine instead of being so smug and arrogant as she clearly had all the good ideas for this film while they went with all the bad ones. If this is what we're getting these days, then I want no more Kung Fu Panda. This series shouldn't continue, because it's clear we peaked with 2 and we're only going downhill from here...

And that's all I have for this review. I hope you enjoyed it and I invite you all to comment on it down below. Did you like the movie, did you not like it? Do tell me.

Next week, I'll be doing something new as I conduct a scene-by-scene analysis of my favourite scene from The Lion King. See you then media fans!

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3 commenti

Well, I liked the fourth one fine. Not as deep as the other three, but the action sequences had me interested, and Jack Black never fails to make Po entertaining. :)

Mi piace

Yeah, I heard the fourth movie was a dud. Should have kept it a trilogy. Shame though.

Kung Fu Panda 2 was the best. It's one of my fav animated movies

Mi piace

Well I have to say, reading this then looking over the TVtropes page, I'm stunned they didn't scrap this and restart the entire thing. The character designer quitting after just a week oughta have told them.

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