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The dragon warrior rocks “Kung Fu Panda 3”


Blu-ray widescreen, DVD widescreen and Digital HD copy, 2016, PG for martial arts action and some mild rude humor

Best extra: Cartoon short “Panda Paws”

DREAMWORKS’ animated series about a panda, who just happens to be a martial arts master, keeps rolling along with a third awesome movie.

Who would’ve thunk it? Jack Black’s Po is as much fun, his adventures and revelations as heartwarming as ever. Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh return to helm the latest; they’ve been with the story from the beginning. Their respect – and delight – for the material continues to shine.

So do Black’s cast mates which include a pack of top talent: Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross and James Hong as Mr. Ping, Po’s adopted father and a goose who runs the best noodle shop in the valley. New characters are voiced by Brian Cranston as Po’s panda birth-father Li, and J.K. Simmons as big bull villain Kai. The scene stealer, though, is Kate Hudson as ribbon dancer Mei Mei, the artiste with attitude. “Get ready to dance … with danger!” she purrs winding our befuddled hero in a big red knot. It’s all laughs.

Po is led to the secret valley of the pandas by Li in an effort to escape Kai’s evil clutches. Kai has mastered the art of chi and is intent on enslaving all kung fu masters and running the world. He captures Po’s master Shifu (Hoffman), the Furious Five, Mantis, Monkey, Viper and Crane – all except Tigress (Jolie) who escapes to track Po to Panda Valley and warn him.

It forces Po into becoming the teacher Shifu says he’s destined to be. Po wants to save the pandas and rescue his friends, but how can he when he can’t wield chi himself? As usual, the dialogue is filled with wise sayings: “If you only do what you can do, you’ll never be better than what you are,” and “The more you take the less you have.” But we still have the quips: “Five hundred years in the Spirit Realm and you pick up a thing or two.” Li informs Po that pandas “don’t do stairs” and we learn what Panda Asthma is. Many will recognize the condition.

The animation was made for 3D, but the 3D Blu-ray is only available at Best Buy in the U.S. Still, the film looks splendid on 20th Century Fox’s 1080p transfer. It is, perhaps, the most visually stunning of the three films, full of vivid, saturated color sweeping across the screen. A sequence when Po becomes the Dragon Master is absolutely gorgeous. Who knew dragons could have that much fun? Depth and detail are the best. There has never been this much cute on screen ever.

Sound is also a blast. Audio is available on 7.1 on Blu-ray; 5.1 on DVD. It is completely immersive with effects ranging from subtle to stupendous. It’s odd but Cranston’s voice kept reminding me of John Goodman. Must be I’m not used to the star of “Breaking Bad” having such a good time. J.K. Simmons’ voice is so deep and resonate he even challenges the subwoofer. All dialogue comes through clearly, but there are subtitles for those who must deal with apartment neighbors and window unit air conditioners. The Hans Zimmer score captures the magic of a fantasy China.

There’s a fine group of extras as well, some duplicated on the DVD for the kiddos. Find two versions of “Everybody Loves a Panda Party,” basically the ballad of Po set to the tune of “Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting.” One is done karaoke style for sing-alongs. “Po’s Posters of Awesomeness” reproduces some of the PR Mr. Ping has posted at his shop and around the village. Jack Black narrates in his matchless impromptu style. “A Gallery of Epic Artfulness” is a series of audio-free production designs that plays on auto or manual advance.

Black also narrates a demonstration on how to “Make a Panda Party Paper Pal” from an enclosed illustration. A minute into this and my fingers were in pain, but a child should have no problem. He explains “The Origin of Skadoosh,” Po’s ultimate weapon. Mei Mei has her own short-short, “Panda Paws” about an audition that goes seriously wrong. It is fabulous.

Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh host “Play Like a Panda.” They visited the Chengdu Panda Base in Sichuan, China, for “Kung Fu Panda 2,” and, as they were making the third film, three new baby pandas were born. A return visit was in order so we see them here and their animated characters. “Why make a movie about pandas at all if you don’t get to put baby pandas all over it?” Carloni asks. Indeed. They also introduce deleted scenes in various stages of completion in “Faux Paws.” All are good, obviously cut for time constraints and story flow.

If there’s an overall theme to “Kung Fu Panda 3,” it’s “don’t take yourself too seriously.” Take time to laugh, smell the flowers and be sure to stand up for yourself and your friends. To miss this is to deny yourself a real good time.

— Kay Reynolds

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