Review: Kung Fu Panda 4 lays Po’s journey to rest, passing the torch to a new generation

By Antonia Lopez, March 19, 2024

After eight years, DreamWorks Animation brought back its lovable, giant fighting panda Po to conclude his story in “Kung Fu Panda 4.”

The movie follows Po, played by actor Jack Black, as he’s faced with the challenge of passing down his title as Dragon Warrior onto another. To prolong the inevitable, Po and his new fox sidekick Zhen, played by actress Awkwafina, travel to Jasmine City to face the malicious Chameleon, played by actress Viola Davis, who wants to steal Po’s Staff of Wisdom and steal land, including the Valley of Peace.

The film repeats the series’ formula, and the poor pacing makes it lack the depth and impact the series is known for.

Within the first 10 minutes of the film, the main villain attacks an iron mine in the valley, Po saves a town from a giant stingray, a new restaurant is opened by Po’s adoptive father and biological father, and Master Shifu, played by actor Dustin Hoffman, is pressuring Po to find a successor to pass down his title of Dragon Warrior to. The sudden wave of information barely allows the viewer time to understand the storyline before the journey begins.

Not only did the movie have poor pacing, speeding through the plot’s setup, but was filled with unengaging and low stakes events. From the sub-plot of Po’s duck and panda fathers, played by actors Bryan Cranston and James Hong respectively, following their son into the city, to Po and Zhen’s development into a master and student relationship, there was low effort to keep audiences engaged.

The Kung Fu Panda movie series is known for its well-developed and complex portrayal of villains. Whether it be Tai Lung’s story as a fallen prodigy, Lord Shen’s lust for destruction or General Kai’s desire for mystic power, their backstories elevate the films to something more than just another kid’s movie.

This aspect was lost on the Chameleon. Not only is her backstory barely mentioned, but her motive was confusing and poorly thought out. In a film where a preying mantis is canonically one of the strongest kung fu fighters of their time, the Chameleon’s story of being too small and weak to be trained has no bearing.

Despite the film’s bland story, there was much else to be admired in the final installment of the movie series.

The movie’s animation experiments with perspective specifically the fighting scenes. During the final battle between Po and the Chameleon, rather than animate the fight from one fixed point while the characters fight around the room, the focus remains on the two characters as the room shifts around them. It creates a unique immersive experience where the viewer can keep up with every kick and punch thrown during the film’s climax.

The movie also brought back fan-favorite Tai Lung, voiced by actor Ian McShane, who had moved onto the Spirit Realm after his death in the first movie. Despite his role being minor, his appearance had many in the theater cheering.

At its core, “Kung Fu Panda 4” works to be a final goodbye to Generation Z’s childhood.

“Kung Fu Panda 4” is a story where the main character must accept that their time in the spotlight has come to an end, and it’s time to pass the torch to a new generation. It’s a familiar message, especially for those in Gen Z who are facing several changes.

Many of the shows and movies the generation grew up watching are no longer aired, replaced by new ones made for the next generation. As Gen Z grows up to move on to the next chapter in their lives, so do the characters they grew up watching.

Feature image courtesy of Universal Pictures 

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