Kung Fu Panda 4

Kung Fu Panda 4 isn't an embarrassment to the franchise but it's certainly a disappointing end for the Dragon Warrior.
66/100167673
Starring
Jack Black, Awkwafina, Viola Davis
Directors
Mike Mitchell and Stephanie Stine
Rating
PG
Genre
Animation, Action, Adventure
Release date
March 8, 2024
Overall Score
Rating Overview
Story/Plot
Visuals/Cinematography
Performance
Direction
Children Suitability
Parent Appeal
Non-Wokeness
Rating Summary
Whether the lovable Po is learning self-esteem or leadership skills while defending those he loves, one of the Kung Fu Panda franchise's greatest and most definitive qualities has been its heart. Combined with Jack Black's distinctive bubbly charm and charisma, as well as fun animation, Kung Fu Panda films usually deliver some quality escapism. Unfortunately, while not horrible, Kung Fu Panda 4 is a pedestrian and, by the numbers, nearly adventureless adventure that will entertain the tykes and not bore adults to tears but do little else.
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CGI cartoons have a rich history dating back to the 1970s when experimental computer-generated imagery was first used in films like “Futureworld” and “Star Wars.” However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that CGI cartoons gained mainstream popularity, with films like “Toy Story” and “Shrek” revolutionizing the animation industry. Since then, CGI technology has continued to advance, leading to visually stunning films such as “Kung Fu Panda 4,” the newest sequel in the beloved series known for its captivating blend of humor, action, and heartwarming storytelling.

Kung Fu Panda 4

The time has come for the great Dragon Warrior to retire and focus on the spiritual health of the residents of Jade Palace and the Valley of Peace. Unfortunately, Po is having as much trouble letting go of his role as the great protector as he is finding a suitable successor.

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Kung Fu Panda 4 Review

The original Kung Fu Panda was a delightful underdog story with a terrific mix of self-deferential humor and hopeful optimism.  With some beautifully animated homages to classic kung fu films and an engaging score, its story of exceeding one’s self-imposed limits was brought to life by some incredibly talented vocal performances, especially that of Jack Black’s quirky and sincere Po.

Unlike its more novel and energetic progenitor, Kung Fu Panda 4 is rather domestic and unimaginative. Po isn’t melancholy, but he lacks much of the excitement and wonder that he had for Kung Fu in the original. Now that he’s an experienced Dragon Warrior with countless battles and trials under his belt and no longer the bumbling, self-doubting fool, the filmmakers seem at a loss as to what to do with Po.

He’s neither an aging warrior who has begun to lose his fighting edge nor a wizened Mr. Myagi-like mentor looking to pass his wisdom on to the next generation. Instead, he’s more or less along for the ride in his own movie, one that only pays lip service to his search for wisdom.

What little heart this film does offer is manifest in a tacked-on and relatively meaningless sidequest by Po’s fathers, who feel the inexplicable need to “rescue” Po before he’s even in danger. Rather than infusing the quest with any depth, the filmmakers have chosen to make it an extended and unfunny joke about Po having two fathers. I wonder why?

Then there is Awkwafina. Can someone please explain her appeal? Eleven years ago, she released a popular crass YouTube video in which she rapped comparisons between her vagina and yours. Now, audiences have to be subjected to her talentless 3-pack-a-day voice in every new animated feature.

Zhen, the spirited fox voiced by Awkwafina in Kung Fu Panda 4.
Zhen, voiced by Awkwafina

It’s not that she is distractingly bad, so much as her performance lacks range and depth. Even when compared to Jack Black’s relatively phoned-in turn as Po, Awkwafina stands out as amateurish and second-rate.

Second-rate is an excellent descriptor for most of the film. Locked into cruise control from almost the beginning, both its plot and its villain are unimpressive and underdeveloped. As a last hurrah as the Dragon Warrior, Po decides to venture on a quest to a far-off land to defeat an evil sorceress with ambitions of nigh-godhood. However, her motivations are shallow and mundane, and her origins beyond cliché and lazy. The two have no personal connection, and the result is a movie that feels like a mostly boring journey that ends in a meaningless boss battle.

Although the technical excellence of animation is obvious, much of the panache has been lost. The stylized nods to Wuxia and anime have been watered down into a more easily digestible, run-of-the-mill aesthetic.

Ultimately, Kung Fu Panda is a middling entry into the franchise and a huge missed opportunity.

 

INAPPROPRIATE ELEMENTS

  • Kung Fu Panda 4 is rated PG for cartoon violence and intense situations, and its several fight scenes earn that rating. However, they aren’t quite as intense as some of the fighting in the series’ previous entries.
    • There is one joking allusion made to getting drunk.
      • A fish “drinks like a fish.” He then wrecks his ship because he was ostensibly driving drunk.
  • There are seemingly cutie bunny children who are actually psychopathic bloodthirsty bunny children.
    • I didn’t mark off any points for this because it is handled in a very PG way. However, as one of our commentors correctly pointed out you should at least be made aware of its existence so that you can decide for your children.

 

WOKE ELEMENTS

Disclaimer: Although the first two woke elements are a thing (below), Po isn’t a diminished physical presence throughout 7/8’s of the film. If anything, he’s so powerful that the filmmakers are at a loss as to what to do with him.

 

Gotta Represent
  • ***SPOILER*** Po is literally being retired in order to usher in a lesser female replacement whose journey to excellence and redemption consists of accepting her own inherent awesomeness. ***END SPOILER***

 

Girl Boss
  • Although the main female character is shown to need training by the film’s end (making many of the same rookie mistakes Po did in his early training montages), she absolutely embarrasses Po in their first fight. There’s never any reason given for her being incredible. She just is.
    • She makes sure to add literal insult to injury with her snarky comments at his expense during their battle.
      • These snarky interactions all but cease after the first act.
    • It’s later revealed that her defeat at his hands was deliberate. She’s that awesome.
    • She fights him to a stalemate at another time.

 

What Good Is A Girl Boss If The Male Lead Isn’t Knocked Down A Peg?
  • The film’s second half takes place in a “far away” city (that doesn’t seem terribly far away) where no one has ever heard of Po or the Dragon Warrior. The reason for this seemingly has only one purpose: to repeatedly humble Po (who is in no way full of himself).
    • There is a running gag in which Po announces himself, and those he’s addressing respond with “Who?”

 

I’m Not Bad. I’m a Victim.
  • In a single throwaway line, the villain excuses her evil ways as a result of being a victim of discrimination.
    • All she wanted in life was to learn kung fu and help people, but every master turned her away because she was too little. Thus, she turned to a life of sorcery and evil.
      • In a franchise in which some of the main kung fu masters are snakes and insects, the only justification for this line’s existence is to push victim politics (also lazy writing).

 

My Two Dads
  • There’s an argument to be made that this one is pushing it, however, Po’s dads are constantly and loudly extolling to anyone within earshot that they are Po’s “two dads.” It’s so overdone that one is forced to wonder (especially with today’s pop culture) if the filmmakers are hinting that the two now very close friends and co-workers are in a relationship. It’s important to note that there is no other indication of this in the rest of the film. But if you watch it, you’ll see what I mean.
    • I didn’t deduct any points for this because, as I said, nothing overt or irrefutable was displayed.

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James Carrick

James Carrick is a passionate film enthusiast with a degree in theater and philosophy. James approaches dramatic criticism from a philosophic foundation grounded in aesthetics and ethics, offering insight and analysis that reveals layers of cinematic narrative with a touch of irreverence and a dash of snark.

16 comments

  • Bunny With A Keyboard

    March 10, 2024 at 9:26 am

    Wow, so they replaced the man with a female character for this. Reminds me of that other movie that did that? Or was it a TV show? Or a comic? Or was it all of them?

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  • Bunny With A Keyboard

    March 10, 2024 at 9:33 am

    I have zero difficulty believing Awkwafina playing a character who can incapacitate people with her powers. I have, after all, heard her speak. It’s not hard to imagine a villain holding his ears and yelling, “Okay, okay, I’ll stop being evil. Just please shut up!”

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  • Bunny With A Keyboard

    March 10, 2024 at 9:50 am

    It’s interesting that when the woke write stories, if the victim is male who was refused training by the mentor, like Kylo Ren, the man is still responsible. However, with the same deal with a woman, she’s just an innocent princess who was swayed by events not of her own making, and had no choice.

    This is misogyny of the highest order. Women are equally as capable as men of making their own choices and should be held equally responsible. Writing women this way only shows how little they think of women.

    If someone can be turned to evil by being denied power, regardless of gender, then it shows that that being isn’t worthy of power. If it was given to them without adversity, there’s every reason to expect they’d abuse it.

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  • Damien

    March 10, 2024 at 2:28 pm

    I think it should lose a few points for child suitability. The trailer clearly exulted in showing children scream “Violence makes our tummies tingle!” and “[Kill him] slow and painful!” My children repeat everything I didn’t want them to hear other kids say. I don’t need any more calls from their schools.

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    • Bunny With A Keyboard

      March 10, 2024 at 3:11 pm

      Especially in the woke school days where a child pointing with thumb and index finger extended is a level two lookalike firearm.

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  • Sweet Deals

    March 10, 2024 at 3:07 pm

    I never saw any of the Kung Fu Panda movies or accompanying television series. I heard a few good things about the first movie, but nothing specific enough to warrant actually watching it yet.

    I understand the appeal of creating sequels. The audience is already there. But in order to justify a sequel, the movie has to tell a new story in its own right. By the time most franchises get to the fourth sequel, the heroes have already completed their journey and overcome all their obstacles. They’ve gotten to a point where nothing challenges them, and that makes them boring. To justify a sequel, either a new challenge has to present itself, or the hero has to suffer a setback, or something that clearly demonstrates that circumstances have changed. Otherwise, the franchise starts limping and repeating itself.

    Passing the torch is a perfectly good story to tell. At some point, the hero realizes that his talents are better suited taking a different role, and that’s a challenge by itself. But it’s also important to find a worthy successor. The new hero has to earn it too, and not merely inherit an unearned legacy. Or waste the legacy by mocking the fore-(panda)bears.

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  • Staying WOKE

    March 10, 2024 at 7:42 pm

    You damn right I’m woke I’m woke to yours and trumps bs. Stay WOKE

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    • Bunny With A Keyboard

      March 10, 2024 at 9:15 pm

      Thank you for showing everyone what the typical woke individual acts like. Many people think we engage in hyperbole when we describe them.

      I would love to see how you respond to some of the stuff in the Member Content section.

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    • RCC

      March 16, 2024 at 1:33 am

      We already know all you wokey wokes have the mental maturity of a toddler, you don’t have to go out of your way to remind us.

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  • Red29375

    March 11, 2024 at 12:18 pm

    Cool, these people are ruining my childhood. God, I hope Hollywood burns to the ground. These people have been given too lich leniency and “power”.

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    • Bunny With A Keyboard

      March 13, 2024 at 6:22 pm

      I don’t want Hollywood to burn to the ground. I want it to stand as an eternal monument. Centuries from now, I want children to ask their parents about Hollywood, for the parents to tell them honestly, and for the children to ask how anyone could make such obvious mistakes. As such, it can serve the purpose of good by being an example of what never to do.

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  • Rob Peter

    March 15, 2024 at 4:38 pm

    but how sexy is the panda?

    Reply

  • b

    March 17, 2024 at 4:57 pm

    I think the two dad thing is actually understated. It’s repeated so many times!

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    • Bunny With A Keyboard

      March 17, 2024 at 6:39 pm

      The funny thing about it is, if kids who watch this movie later hear that someone has two dads, they’ll probably think that it’s a biodad and stepdad who don’t love each other, as is shown here.

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  • Tom

    March 29, 2024 at 10:13 am

    I’ve just come back from seeing this with my 5 year old. Truth be told, I was pleasantly surprised. I thought the story was solid enough, albeit not overly deep, with a decent message about embracing change and accepting the next phase of life. I think that’s something most new parents and many kids can relate to. However I do agree the main villain was not fleshed out enough to make the final confrontation as dramatic as it could have been.

    Woke-wise, it was fine. There were occasions where the woke alarm started ringing in anticipation of woke nonsense but it generally never went over the line.

    SPOILER SECTION

    Did it expressly state that Zhen lost the first fight on purpose rather than taking advantage of his good nature afterwards? If so I didn’t hear that, and Po defeated her when she was holding the staff and making an exit, so surely there was no reason to deliberately lose and get locked up. The final fight also pleasantly surprised me, when it transpired Po was deliberately letting her fight alone whilst also landing the final blow himself. I fully expected a ‘girl-boss proves she’s better than male hero and saves the day’ scene but again ended up better.

    Granted, their fight on the steps should have ended with Po defeating her and imparting a final lesson that came back into play in the final battle, but this is the only major plot issue I had and even then, she’s clearly shown as needing to learn moral lessons from him. This could just be a writing decision but admittedly could have been a decision motivated by not wanting the male mentor to mansplain, or whatever. Also have to say I loved Jack Black’s credits song.

    So basically, on the face of it the plot looks like it’s going to fall into all the usual woke tropes (female apprentice replacing male hero), but it dodges most if not all of them and gives a pretty good film that doesn’t put down Po. I find Dreamworks is far better than Disney/Pixar for kids stuff these days.

    Ps. Love the reviews, this is one of the first places I look when I’m considering new films for my kids.

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  • Pamela Cummings

    May 12, 2024 at 12:46 pm

    Great job! Your analysis is thorough. This post is informative and well-written. Thank you for the actionable tips. Excited for more content from your blog!

    Reply

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