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‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ strikes a balance of laughs and lessons

In+%E2%80%9CKung+Fu+Panda+4%2C%E2%80%9D+Po+%28Jack+Black%29+and+Zhen+%28Awkwafina%29+embark+on+a+journey+to+stop+the+shape-shifter+Cameleonul+%28Viola+Davis%29+from+taking+over+the+Valley+of+Peace.+
Courtesy of Universal Pictures
In “Kung Fu Panda 4,” Po (Jack Black) and Zhen (Awkwafina) embark on a journey to stop the shape-shifter Cameleonul (Viola Davis) from taking over the Valley of Peace.
5.0 out of 5.0 stars

Fans of the loveable and skilled martial artist Panda Po, voiced by Jack Black, are in for another ‘skadoosh’ in “Kung Fu Panda 4,” which was released in theaters March 8. Directed by Mike Mitchell, the movie picks up from “Kung Fu Panda 3” with Po basking in the glory of being chosen as the Dragon Warrior. However, Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), tells Po that he has to become the spiritual leader of the Valley of Peace, which begins the search for Po’s successor.

But after catching Zhen, a sneaky fox voiced by Awkwafina, Po learns that a shape-shifter named Cameleonul (Viola Davis) is planning to take over the Valley of Peace and the two go to stop her. While Po is not actively looking for a successor throughout the film, he slowly starts to accept his role as spiritual leader by guiding Zhen in a clearer, righteous path.

As always, Black does a fantastic job at voicing Po and brings out his silly, light-hearted personality perfectly. What really stole the show was Zhen and Po’s friendly banter throughout the film, which was possible because of Black and Awkwafina’s talent as voice actors. Even though Awkwafina primarily does live-action movies, she has dabbled in a few voice-over roles with her most recent being the voice of Scuttle in the live-action “Little Mermaid.” 

Awkwafina delivered her lines well and had excellent comedic timing. Davis also did an exceptional job with her role as Cameleonul, who is an intimidating and cunning character. It is quite shocking to know that this is the same actress who played the iconic role of Aibileen Clark in “The Help.”

The main plot of the movie was solid and reminiscent of films that focus on the redemption arc of a character, which in this case was Zhen. Despite having a rough upbringing in Juniper City, Po encourages her to turn over a new leaf after realizing her potential. Po goes through a similar journey as he has to accept his destiny as a spiritual leader rather than just a fighter. The film brings forth the meaning of change and the difficulties that come with it. With the help of others, change is something that can be easier over time.

The secondary plot revolving around Po’s fathers, Mr. Ping (James Hong) and Li Shan (Bryan Cranston), was a delight to watch. Both are concerned about Po taking on Cameleonul so they go on a mini journey to stop him, but run into a few shenanigans along the way. Up until the third movie, Mr. Ping was known as Po’s adoptive father, who cared for Po as if he were his own son. But now having two dads, Po has to think twice before doing something dangerous. Mr. Ping’s brains and Li Shan’s brawns make them the ultimate father duo that no one should cross. 

A few old characters like Master Shifu and Tai Lung (Ian McShane) return in “Kung Fu Panda 4.” We even see some of Po’s old enemies like Kai (J.K. Simmons), from “Kung Fu Panda 3” and Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) from “Kung Fu Panda 2.” Yet one group that is noticeably absent throughout the entire film is the Furious Five, a team of skilled fighters that consists of Tigress, Monkey, Viper, Crane and Mantis. Even though Po states that The Furious Five are on separate missions in the film, their absence left a hole in the story. The five of them have been a huge help to Po in the past three movies. In this fourth installment despite having Zhen around, Po is handling the main conflict by himself.

However, after watching the film, Mitchell made the right choice to not include the Furious Five because it allowed new characters like Zhen and some of the background characters from Juniper City to shine. Perhaps if there is a fifth installment of “Kung Fu Panda,” the Furious Five can return. 

“Kung Fu Panda 4” succeeds at adding depth to Po’s character as he becomes wiser and more mature as he embraces his new role throughout the course of the film. Though only an hour and 34 minutes, the film does not feel rushed and every scene feels well fleshed out. Filled with hilarious moments, great fighting scenes and intriguing dialogue, the plot of “Kung Fu Panda 4” was worth the eight-year wait.

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Jadyn Davis, Senior writer
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