Kung Fu Panda 4 review – Jack Black and Awkwafina in hurricane of slapstick more miss than hit

by 24britishtvMarch 28, 2024, 8:20 p.m. 19
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The cuddly kung fu master is back. Jack Black returns as dumpling-loving panda Po, the unlikeliest of lean, mean fightin’ machines. It’s been eight years since Kung Fu Panda 3, and on the evidence here, the delay can’t be put down to KFP4 being a labour of love, the product of animation studio DreamWorks’ A team pouring in enormous amounts of effort. It’s a hurricane of slapstick (some of it in fact very funny) and age-appropriate energetic fight scenes, but lacks the sweetness and charm of the franchise at its best. It failed the wriggle test on my seven-year-old cinema date, who was squirming in her seat around the hour mark.

The plot is a bit overfussy for its target audience of small kids, though the scriptwriters have been careful to make it work for newbies – no previous Kung Fu Panda experience necessary. It opens with Po being promoted from his role as Dragon Warrior to spiritual leader of the valley, taking over from his mentor Shifu (Dustin Hoffman – no expense has been spared on the vocal cast). But before he can appoint his successor, Po apprehends Zhen (Awkwafina), a streetwise thieving fox. The two of them make a brilliant double act: Black is adorable, Awkwafina terrific as the cynical wisecracker.

Zhen warns Po about a dangerous new villain, the sorceress Chameleon (Viola Davis), who turns out to be pretty unmemorable as far as the franchise’s baddies go (not a patch on Ian McShane or Gary Oldman in the earlier movies). The two biggest giggles in the cinema came from the grownups: first, in a hilarious scene involving bulls in a china shop; then some wry chuckling when Po tries to meditate – his thoughts quickly straying to his tummy: “Inner peace … inner peace … dinner please … dinner with peas.” But the seven-year-old shrugged and said, half heartedly: “The panda is … fun.”

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