The Student News Site of Columbia Heights High School

The Heights Herald

The Student News Site of Columbia Heights High School

The Heights Herald

The Student News Site of Columbia Heights High School

The Heights Herald

Nostalgic animated franchise returns with lukewarm results

Sandy Moncayo
Eight years later, Po returns to the silver screen with a story that, while epic in potentially, is ultimately an epic “meh.”

“Kung Fu Panda 4” in three words: Okay, I guess? 

“It is time to take your next step on your journey,” one of the characters tells the protagonist in the franchise’s latest installment, but maybe Po (voiced by Jack Black of “School of Rock”) should have taken a step back — maybe even a few steps. The delayed, direct sequel to 2016’s “Kung Fu Panda 3” is a continuation of that film’s story but with some distinct (and arguably disappointing) differences. 

To recap, “Kung Fu Panda 3” concluded with Po earning the prestigious title of Dragon Warrior and reuniting with his students and family to live out their lives practicing the way of Chi, a spiritual power taught through the martial art Kung Fu. 

Overall, “Kung Fu Panda 3” was a hit with a happily-ever-after ending and $521 million worldwide at the box office. Or so we thought, until “Kung Fu Panda 4” was announced to be in production in 2022. Wondering how this new sequel could add to the already established and satisfyingly wrapped-up story from 2016, it’s safe to say that the upcoming addition had notoriously wagered more skepticism than optimism. 

“The whole movie brings back nostalgia, but honestly, despite the flaws, it was still really engaging for younger viewers since the plot is really simple to follow,” Dianna Chacia (10) said.

Long story short, the fourth film takes viewers on an adventure with Po as he faces off against a new villain called the Chameleon (voiced by Viola Davis of “How to Get Away with Murder”). Besides the typical villain arc, heroic victory and feel-good ending, the movie falls short on one major point: the plot! “Kung Fu Panda 4” is nothing short of confusing. It felt like a big hoax or a bad adaptation of a superior novel or comic book, except it wasn’t, and yet everything still went wrong. 

First and foremost, the limp sequel offers both a meek and shallow antagonist as well as some rampant mixed messaging about resilience in the face of struggle Fans of the series finally get a chance at having a powerful female villain, but the Chameleon is watered down by a half-baked backstory and underdeveloped motives. Another example of a fatal flaw in the movie’s narrative is the progress of Po’s character. This entry could have furthered his story and character development (although not needed), but instead, director Mike Mitchell (“Trolls”) and a lackluster script send Po’s likeability into a spiraling abyss, never to return. In “Kung Fu Panda 4”, Po is…selfish. His whole character is thrown backward when Po contradicts his role of being Dragon Warrior and heading towards the problem despite his fathers begging him of the dangers. This entirely contradicts his character in all the other movies. Was his “selfishness” shown when he wandered the spiritual and mortal realms, in hopes of restoring and resolving tension in “Kung Fu Panda 3”? Despite knowing he might not be able to return to the mortal realm. Such as it seems like an inconsistency for his character, bringing him back to square one as if the other three movies weren’t there to show his growth from the beginning till now.

The severe lack of the Furious Five was quite literally infuriating to the core. In the other movies, Po’s whole reason for becoming a Kung Fu Warrior was due to their influences as friends, each of them teaching him a core value. Just suddenly taking them out feels as if the movie was submitted without the final touches added to it. Although the Kung Fu Panda movie 4 doesn’t necessarily revolve around the Furious Five, it would have been nice to have Po and them reunite. 

“The plot is confusing — so confusing that the guy next to me asked if I understood the power system, and even I couldn’t explain,” Ana Livisca (10) said. “They were trying to put too much into the movie when it should have [kept it] simple.”

This lengthy list of cons will significantly affect how you view the movie entirely, but “Kung Fu Panda 4” does have its pros. One instance would be the animation. It is simply breathtaking. The movements between characters are incredibly smooth while still beautifully capturing the nostalgic nature of the franchise. The visual works together with its marvelous voice acting, which is next level. With the addition of Zhen, a new fox character and supporting character (voice of Awkwafina, “The Farewell”), it’s easy to tell that the actors had an amazing and fun time recording each scene. The movie does get brownie points for being visually delicious and musically tasty to the ears, such as Jack Black and his hard rock cover of Britney Spears’s “…Baby One More Time’ appearing in “Kung Fu Panda 4”, plus sprinkles for the voice acting. Despite the weak writing, hearing these animated characters come to life is still magical for those who grew up with them. The characters are packed with so many emotions that it’ll easily make the audience forget they are merely fictional. 

If you are an avid fan of the franchise, then you’ll likely find some enjoyment out of it, but in comparison to its predecessors, this fourth movie is lacking. There’s a saying: “Third time’s a charm!” But a fourth time? DreamWorks Animation Studios may have pushed their luck too hard on this one. It comes across as a money grab instead of a genuine, heartfelt and valuable addition to the franchise, and it is shown not in the production, but through the various gaps in the storyline. Brace yourself for this adventure, “To make something special you just have to believe it’s special.” – Master Oogway. 

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Hiedi Lee
Hiedi Lee, Feature Editor
Hiedi is a junior at Columbia Heights High School and serves as this year's Feature Editor for The Heights Herald. Outside of the classroom, she participates in orchestra and other various types of rehearsals. She has an interest in music and learning new skills to pass the time. She plays the piano, violin and guitar and often enjoys movies, musicals, crocheting, reading, embroidery and baking during her free time.
Sandy Moncayo
Sandy Moncayo, Lead Illustrator
Sandy is a senior at Columbia Heights High School and is this year’s Lead Illustrator for The Heights Herald. For fun, she loves to draw, play guitar and write poetry. She is currently involved in the theater department's fall musical “Cinderella” in the title role and is involved in other activities such as Math Team, Knowledge Bowl, Speech and Dynamix Choir.