The obligatory close of the trilogy stumbles into cinemas to entertain the kids once again with it's oafish charms, but adult fans of the franchise might find their interest waning. Jack Black's Po is one of the most likeable animated characters outside of the Pixar canon, and he's always good company. However he repeats the same sort of learning curve as in previous films, so we've seen this story before. Twice. And, again, it's a vague, new-age type concept 'Chi' that we're asked to accept in order for ordinary folk to defeat evil. However it's ultimately just another parable about self-acceptance (wasn't that the plot of the first one?) with added magical, mystical swirly lights nonsense about an energy that flows through all living things (sound familiar?) with added, by-the-numbers family drama (Po now has two father figures to wrangle). Even that plotline is wasted and little happens to really challenge Po's character or raise the stakes. In truth, his character arc was more or less completed in the first film.
The animation is gorgeous once again (it's always been the best looking of Dreamworks' franchises), but the overdone special effects and superhero-level martial arts are now more over-the-top than ever; now resembling the super-exaggerated parody sequence we saw at the start of the first film in Po's daydream. The humour also begins to feel the strain as the writers struggle to stretch the material needed to generate this final film in the trilogy. We are now back in low-level Dreamworks territory with more weak gags, and over-repetition of characters that aren't funny (there's a Panda that likes to hug. A lot. Hilarious).
It's already an awesome voice cast (although the talents of many of them amount to little more than cameos) but even the addition of super-heavyweights JK Simmons and Bryan Cranston do little to elevate the material, which is particularly disappointing. Everything about it seems more diluted than ever, and I found myself wishing, on more than one occasion, that I was watching the (much funnier and much more exciting) first Kung Fu Panda.
Kids will still lap it up though. Kung Fu Panda 2 (which I thought was fun but weaker than the first) is my son's favourite DVD at the moment, and he describe this one, appropriately, as 'awesome'. But all the inventiveness, heart, thrills and humour of the original that make it such a joy for grown ups have been diluted almost out of existence in a severe case of diminishing returns.
So what ought to be the Toy Story 3 of the trilogy ends up being more Shrek The Third: a rather thin exercise of going through the corporate motions. Perhaps art should imitate life, and this Panda should be allowed to go gracefully extinct.