‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ Review: Jack Black Does It Again

Animated sequels can be a challenge; sometimes, the sequel isn’t as good as the original (Shrek the Third is a perfect example). Other times, the sequels can be better than the original (Shrek 2). In DreamWorks Animation’s case, they now have two franchises that have maintained their quality throughout their sequels (sorry, Shrek): How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda. It’s been over a decade since we last saw Po on the big screen, and he’s back to take the next step on his kung fu journey in Kung Fu Panda 4. 

Kung Fu Panda 4 Movie Review - Po and Zhen (Jack Black and Awkwafina)
Po (Jack Black) and Zhen (Awkwafina) in Kung Fu Panda 4. Image courtesy of DreamWorks.

The Plot

The story focuses mainly on Po (voiced by Jack Black) coming to terms with choosing a successor to become the Dragon Warrior and becoming the Spiritual Leader of the Valley of Peace himself. This comes to a halt when the Chameleon (voiced by Viola Davis), a shapeshifting sorceress, plots to take over every village, including the Valley of Peace. It’s up to Po and his unlikely partner Zhen (voiced by Awkwafina), a fox who happens to be a quick-witted thief, to team up to save the world.

The Pros and Cons of Kung Fu Panda 4

The biggest con I have is probably the film’s plot, which isn’t bad; it’s just very predictable, especially the “big twist” with one of the characters. That being said, it’s still done well, even though you know what’s coming. I did find the subplot with Li (voiced by Bryan Cranston) and Ping (voiced by James Hong) to be a little unnecessary at times. At this point, both fathers should have more faith in their son than they showed up until the end. Also, the Furious Five were greatly missed, though we do get to see them again towards the end of the film.

The animation itself was very well done and has improved with each sequel. I was most impressed with the choreography during the action sequences; the animation and cinematography were excellent. The most impressive sequence was a big chase scene in the middle of the film (featuring an unexpected instrumental version of a song in the background). This sequence helps solidify Po and Zhen’s friendship and how well they work together while still providing humor and action.

Kung Fu Panda 4 Movie Review - Jack Black and inner peas
Po (Jack Black) in Kung Fu Panda 4. Image courtesy of DreamWorks.

Jack Black is the only actor who could have brought Po to life, much like Robin Williams did for the Genie in AladdinBlack is a terrific actor, and I can see him acting through his voice work. He brings so much humor and heart to Po, which makes him a character that’s easy to connect to and root for. Also, if you’ve been on TikTok lately, a full version of Black’s cover of Hit Me Baby One More Time plays during the credits (and it’s as amazing as you can imagine).

Awkwafina has already worked with Black in Jumanji: The Next Level and has done voice work in films like Raya and the Last Dragon and Migration. She is a perfect fit for the role of Zhen, a fast-talking fox with plenty of street smarts. She also has great chemistry with Black; you can instantly feel that Po and Zhen will become good friends as soon as they share the screen.

The Kung Fu Panda franchise has been hit and miss with its villains: Ian McShane’s Tai Lung, Gary Oldman’s Shen, and J.K. Simmons’ Kai. Now, we get our first female villain in Viola Davis’ Chameleon. The Chameleon is easily the most powerful foe that Po has had to face, as evident by their epic final battle. Davis is having a blast chewing the scenery with this character and also gives The Chameleon a few comedic moments. 

Viola Davis and Ian McShane in Kung Fu Panda 4.
The Chameleon (Viola Davis) and Tai Lung (Ian McShane) in Kung Fu Panda 4. Image courtesy of DreamWorks.

Ke Huy Quan also joins the cast as Han, a Sunda pangolin who is the leader of a den of thieves; he’s more of an antagonist than a villain, but any Ke Huy Quan we get on the big screen is a win in my book. The rest of the returning cast of characters do great work. While I felt their subplot unnecessary, Bryan Cranston and James Hong make a hilarious odd couple I never knew I wanted. Dustin Hoffman is still great as Master Shifu, but the biggest surprise was the return of Ian McShane as Tai Lung. While we only get a little screen time with him, McShane makes the most of it with a terrific vocal performance.

Final Thoughts on Kung Fu Panda 4

Overall, Kung Fu Panda 4 is a fun action adventure that the whole family should watch when it hits theaters. Jack Black and Awkwafina have great comedic chemistry, the animation and fight choreography are fantastic, and a predictable but fun plot that still manages to be entertaining. I would say this is the best film since the original Kung Fu Panda, and I look forward to seeing it again!

Kung Fu Panda 4 is in theaters Friday, March 8, 2024.

Are you excited to see Jack Black take up the mantle of Po again in Kung Fu Panda 4? What do you think about Zhen? Let us know by connecting with us on X @MoviesWeTexted.

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