02nd Jul2024

‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ Blu-ray Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Jack Black, Awkwafina, Viola Davis, Bryan Cranston, James Hong, Ian McShane, Ke Huy Quan, Ronny Chieng, Lori Tan Chinn, Dustin Hoffman | Written by Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, Darren Lemke | Directed by Mike Mitchell, Stephanie Ma Stine

Cuddly Kung Fu master Po the Panda returns to the big screen for a fourth instalment of the animated action comedy franchise, eight years after Kung Fu Panda 3. Unfortunately, it’s fair to say that the law of diminishing returns has very much kicked in, because while the film is entirely amiable, it doesn’t quite deliver the same punch, and frequently feels like it’s going through the motions.

The film begins in the Valley of Peace, where Po (Jack Black) is content with his life as the legendary Dragon Warrior, occasionally defeating the odd villain with his sweet kung-fu skills and using his standing in the community to open a tofu-and-noodle shop. However, grumpy Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) informs Po that actually, he’s getting on a bit, and maybe he should think about recruiting and training his successor.

Po is mortified by the idea of retirement, but happily a distraction arrives in the shape of The Chameleon (Viola Davis), a shape-shifting master villain with designs on world domination. Together with new sidekick, street-smart fox Zhen (Awkwafina), Po sets out to find and defeat The Chameleon in Juniper City, which means leaving his beloved Valley of Peace.

The voice performances are as superb as we’ve come to expect from the Kung Fu Panda series. Black is as likeable and engaging as always, while Awkwafina delivers exactly the performance you’re expecting. That’s intended in a good way, although it does make you wonder if she’s on some sort of mission to voice animated versions of every single animal, given her recent appearances in Migration (pigeon), The Little Mermaid (pelican), The Bad Guys (tarantula), and Raya and the Last Dragon (dragon).

There’s also strong comic support from Bryan Cranston (returning as Po’s dad, and forging a charming double act with James Hong as Po’s adoptive stork dad Mr Ping), while Davis is suitably slinky and sininster as The Chameleon and Ian McShane provides a welcome bit of nostalgia with a brief, but enjoyable reprise of Tai Lung, the villainous tiger from the first film.

Mike Mitchell (who directed Trolls) and co-director Stephanie Ma Stine do a good job with the action scenes, keeping them fast and exciting and occasionally throwing in little manga or anime-style details, like freeze frames and split screens. That said, as with the rest of the film, it’s hard to shake the feeling that there’s nothing here that you haven’t seen before.

It’s also fair to say that the plot feels a little uninspired this time round. Also, given that The Chameleon’s plans involve resurrecting Po’s former enemies, the climax should be a lot more exciting, but instead there’s an air of, ‘Is that it?’

On the plus side, the film does have a good mix of gags, both visual and verbal. Highlights include a funny throwaway joke involving bulls in a china shop, a trio of scene-stealing bunnies who can go from cute to feral at the drop of a hat, and Po’s disappointed reaction to the realisation that the name Dragon Warrior doesn’t have the same cachet in Juniper City: “Are my adventures really so regional?”

In short, this is never less than watchable thanks to strong character work, a handful of good jokes and some lively and colourful animation, but it’s also clearly the fourth-best movie of the franchise and feels a little lacklustre by comparison. To that end, the best part of the entire film ends up being Jack Black’s Tenacious D cover of Britney Spears’ Hit Me Baby (One More Time), which plays over the end credits.

Special Features:

  • Exclusive Short “Duelling Dumplings”
  • Feature Commentary with Filmmakers
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Kung Fu Talking
  • Meet the Cast
  • Kung Fu Panda 4 All!
  • Mastering the Dumpling
  • How to Draw
  • Shadow Puppet Theatre

*** 3/5

Kung Fu Panda 4 is available on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Platforms now.


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