Kungu Fu 4: Entertaining but weakest entry in an otherwise perfect franchise

BD Kungu fu panda 4

Kung Fu Panda 4 is a 2024 American animated martial arts comedy film. PHOTO | POOL

For animators, like myself, every time a big studio decides to invest in an animated project, it's usually a moment to celebrate. I mean, animation is the ultimate form of on-screen creative expression because it gives creators the ability to explore whatever ideas they can imagine, no matter how outlandish they may be; the possibilities with animation are endless.

Back in August 2022, there was word out that "Kung Fu Panda 4" was planned for release in March 2024, and the first thing that came to mind was: why? I mean, we all love Jack Black as Po, and he is a fantastic voice actor, but did we need another "Kung Fu Panda" movie? Was this a shameless move by the studio to continue milking a franchise even after three movies and three seasons of a successful series?

Did they have a good enough story to necessitate a fourth instalment? It's March 2024, and the movie just hit theatres; let's see whether it's worth your money and time in the cinemas.

The Story

Po must train a new warrior after being chosen as the spiritual leader of the Valley of Peace. However, when a powerful shape-shifting sorceress sets her eyes on his Staff of Wisdom, he suddenly realizes he's going to need some help. Teaming up with a quick-witted corsac fox, Po soon discovers that heroes can be found in the most unexpected places.

Kung Fu Panda 4

Kung Fu Panda 4 is a 2024 American animated martial arts comedy film produced by DreamWorks Animation and distributed by Universal Pictures. It is the fourth instalment in the Kung Fu Panda franchise and the sequel to Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016).  It features Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, James Hong, Bryan Cranston, and Ian McShane reprising their roles from the previous films, with Awkwafina, Ke Huy Quan, Ronny Chieng, Lori Tan Chinn, and Viola Davis joining the cast. Notably, Angelina Jolie and Jackie Chan's characters are missing.

The film was directed by Mike Mitchell, co-directed by Stephanie Ma Stine in her feature directorial debut, written by Darren Lemke and the writing team of Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, and produced by Rebecca Huntley.

What worked

This might seem strange, but you really have to see it to understand. One of the highlights of the film was the end credits, Po (Jack Black) sings a Britney Spears song, which surprisingly is the most entertaining aspect of the movie.

Animators will enjoy this movie; right from the start, it's evident that both the animators and voice actors who worked on this production were enjoying themselves immensely. While the previous movies were well animated, especially when it came to action set pieces, this film is packed with intricate details in both foreground and background, making even the seemingly unimportant scenes captivating. The action sequences feel more dynamic with varied camera angles and additional visual elements, resulting in visually pleasing scenes.

Viola Davis adds depth to what is, on paper, a ludicrous animated villain. Her voice work gives the Chameleon a serious tone, rendering her a credible threat. Jack Black, as Po, is consistently excellent; his line delivery and timing, as in all other Kung Fu movies, are impeccable.

Although some character designs, like the Chameleon, look absolutely stunning, the film adheres to the visual language established in previous Kung Fu movies they maintain the aesthetic.

Overall, this is a great movie for kids, with plenty of fun and silly moments that will appeal to both the young and the young at heart. However, for die-hard animation and Kung Fu enthusiasts, well...

What didn't work

"The Furious Five" are absent from the movie, and although they provide a reason for their absence at the beginning and they pop up during the closing credits, the movie doesn't have the same impact without them.

The third act is underwhelming thanks to a predictable setup, at moments I found myself whispering “Come on bro, you must have seen that coming”

The main antagonist (voiced by Viola Davis), despite the fantastic voice work, is one-dimensional. Her arc is limited to and driven by the desire for power and domination. Her motivation doesn't make sense, (she was denied an opportunity to learn Kung fu but when you think about it this is the same universe that has a mantis which is a small creature as a warrior. Here's where it seems like a clever attempt by the studio to capitalize on the success of the previous movie. The antagonist can assume different forms, mimicking various villains from the previous Kung Fu Panda movies and shows.

If you haven't seen the previous movies, you might find yourself drawn in if you recognize some of the villains. Essentially, this movie serves to enhance the rewatchability factor of the other films.

Po’s arc in this movie also contradicts what was set in the first movie in terms of the progression of the warrior.

Kung Fu movies have always centred on Po overcoming the odds and tapping into his inner self to achieve the seemingly impossible. This motivation is the heart and core of the movies and shows, but in this movie, it starts off that way and is quickly abandoned to accommodate another character, Zhen, voiced by Awkwafina, who also embarks on her own journey.

While it's fine for the movie to set up Zhen as Po's successor, it feels like just another Hollywood trope of replacing a legacy character (this time the male lead) with a female character in hopes of revitalising the franchise and paving the way for more movies in the future. The unfortunate aspect of Zhen's character setup is that it the writer forgot or overlooked what made Po a loveable personality and a character that worked for that universe in the first place.

Now Consider this: you have Po, Zhen, Po's parents on their own journey, and a villain who can mimic all the other villains from the previous movies. The result of all that is of course an unnecessarily convoluted film that is making an effort to sideline the main character.


Without a doubt, this was the weakest entry in the franchise with the tv show included. The more I think of it this should have been developed as a Tv show.

While it strives to capture the essence and spirit of Kung Fu Panda through animation and voice work, it lacks the choreography and heartfelt storytelling that made the previous three movies successful. The plot is less focused and more convoluted due to the need to introduce a new character—or, let's be honest, to replace the main character in order to sustain the franchise's profitability.

However, despite its shortcomings, this film will likely rake in significant box office revenue because of the enduring popularity of Po and Unlike its predecessor, it a story that is clearly tailored to primarily appeal to younger audiences.

So, consider taking your kids to see it; you might as well get a few laughs out of it. Otherwise, it could find better success as a streaming option.

X: @stanslausmanthi

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