top of page
  • Nate Adams

'Kung Fu Panda 4' review: Animated series has lost the thunder

Courtesy of Dreamworks Animation


Returning to the big screen after an eight year hiatus, “Kung Fu Panda 4” sees Po (affably voiced by Jack Black) take on new challenges and adversaries, but it’s lacking the poignancy of earlier installments, especially the first one which remains the gold standard. The fourthquel hasn’t completely lost the franchise’s identity as it’s brimming with colorful locations, energetic pacing, vibrant animation, and introducing new characters into the mix, however, the movie feels inconsequential. There’s little freshness and the evolution of Po and his kung-fu abilities peaked several years ago, leaving this latest installment no room for growth or engagement. Small children might get a kick out of it, but only because they have a fondness for how this character was introduced rather than where he’s ended up. 


The original 2008 version bestowed Black with one of his most iconic roles: a silly, agile, snack obsessed Panda who discovers inner peace and is thrusted into a protector role as the coveted Dragon Warrior. The sequels were far less memorable (though occasionally amusing) and that leads us to this fourth outing where it seems all creative instincts have gone out the window. So much so, the uninspiring big baddie this time around, the Chameleon (voiced by Viola Davis), has to call on villains from the past to make an impact, which means characters like Ian McShane’s Tai Lung are brought back into the fold. 

The emergence of the Chameleon comes at an existential time for Po, who has been tasked by his aging mentor Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) to find and train someone that’ll be a worthy heir to the Dragon Warrior throne. Po, of course, has no interest in relinquishing the title, and the shape-shifting villain gives him a much needed distraction and he teams up with a nifty new sidekick named Zhen (Awkwafina) to track her down and prepare for battle. 

Director Mike Mitchell, alongside writers Jonathan Aibel, Gleen Berger, and Darren Lemke, have crafted a pretty routine adventure for Po wherein lessons about self worth and acceptance are at the forefront. Predictably, Po and Zhen form a kinship that sees them exploring their own identities and what kung-fu means to them until the former eventually learns that change is inevitable and it should be embraced rather than fought. But such trivial lessons aren’t handled with any spark or inventiveness. Half the jokes don’t land, and there’s a sidequest featuring Po’s father’s Li (Bryan Cranston) and Mr. Ping (James Hong) that never earns its place on screen.  

Still, Jack Black is one of the most likable personas on the planet and his cover of the Britany Spears anthem “…Baby One More Time” over the closing credits is a reminder of his enduring legacy. You’d be hard pressed to find any child who doesn’t apperciate his lovably goofy personality and Po can be cute when he wants to be. Not to mention the split-screen martial arts sequences generally pop with vigor, which can occasionally make up for tepid dialogue. And yet, “Kung Fu Panda 4” doesn’t go anywhere unexpected nor does it challenge the characters in any discernible fashion. 

In other words, it’s missing the Skadoosh. 

Grade: C 

KUNG FU PANDA 4 is now playing in theaters 


Subscribe here to have every review sent directly to your inbox!


Be the first to know!

Thanks for subscribing to!

bottom of page