Kung Fu Panda 4 | Review

While Disney is experiencing perhaps the most difficult period in its history, and while auteur animation is making more than one hit and bringing home successes and Oscars, DreamWorks reminds us that a third way is still possible.
Kung Fu Panda 4


Another ride, another adventure for the warrior bear: through obstacle courses and maturation paths, the narrow path is DreamWorks’: revitalizing family animation.

After facing death in three incredible adventures, defeating world-renowned enemies with his extraordinary courage and his insane martial arts skills, Po, the Dragon Warrior, is called by destiny to… cut it out. Indeed, he is tasked with becoming the spiritual leader of the Valley of Peace. However, this entails a couple of obvious problems. Firstly, Po knows about spiritual leadership as much as he does about the paleo diet, and secondly, he must quickly find and train a new Dragon Warrior before he can assume his new and prestigious position. As if that weren’t enough, a wicked and powerful sorceress, Chameleon, a small lizard capable of transforming into any creature, big or small, has recently been spotted. Chameleon has set her sights on Po’s Staff of Wisdom, which would give her the power to awaken from the realm of spirits all the villains Po has defeated. Po, therefore, needs help. He will find it (more or less?) in the thief Zhen, a corsair fox who really drives Po crazy, but whose skills will prove invaluable. In an attempt to protect the Valley of Peace from the reptilian claws of Chameleon, this odd comedic duo must join forces. Meanwhile, Po will discover that heroes can be found in the most unexpected places.

While Disney is experiencing perhaps the most difficult period in its history, drowning in an unimaginable creative, financial, and brand crisis, and while auteur animation, on the other hand, is making more than one hit and bringing home successes and Oscars, DreamWorks reminds us that a third way is still possible. The old aurea mediocritas, which once was the stigma for the studio founded by Spielberg, Katzenberg, and Geffen, today is an asset to preserve against the sways of more renowned houses. And so, Kung Fu Panda 4. The very safe bet for a conservative relaunch of the family cartoon. Lively and colorful anthropomorphic animation, cheerful but not caustic, boisterous but not chaotic, inclusive but not obsessed, low-intensity, with a clear cut to the highest and lowest frequencies. Mediocrity elevated to a system. Supported by a more massive promotional campaign than usual. Old cinema.

Eight years after the last adventure, Panda Po, who over the course of the saga has gone through various stages of growth – from clumsy bear to kung-fu warrior defender of justice – must raise the bar again: pressed by Master Shifu, who would like to transform him into the new spiritual leader of the Valley of Peace, he must first abdicate as Dragon Warrior and appoint his successor. Which is worse than drinking hemlock for him, attached as he is to his role and the privileges it grants him, like being able to stuff himself without decency and indulge in childish boasting. An external inconvenience then slows down the scouting: the rise in nearby villages of a fearsome chameleon threatening the harmony of all kingdoms. Without the Furious Five (Tiger, Monkey, Mantis, Crane, and Viper), engaged in off-screen tasks (a courageous choice, perhaps the only one, by the screenwriters), Po will have to try to stop him with the help of an unlikely adventure companion, a fox named Zhen.

The journey can begin again. And Po’s maturation tautologically culminate with the definitive entry into adulthood, that of ultimate responsibilities: stepping aside. Hard it may sound as the final act of a franchise that has been able to capitalize on the template of the growth path, proposing it in all possible combinations. More chameleonic than the new threat faced by Po, the saga has made transformation without change its winning formula.

The rest is craft, namely comedy duets – the unbeatable diatribes between Po and Shifu, the dynamics between Panda’s two fathers, Ping and Li Shan. Having said about the clever move to exclude the Furious Five this time, it must be recognized that the introduction of a brand-new character like Zhen turned out to be a hit. As much as the sequence in the “saloon” on the cliff, a fun homage to the western. And then escapes, chases, tumbles, in a dynamic, shape-shifting, and sparkling show. And anyway, more “chromatic” than chronicle, strokes of color through bustling urban landscapes, lush natures, and very warm interiors.

A carnival for the eyes, and those who want to delve into details can do so. DreamWorks thinks big: multi-screen theaters and popcorn in mega portions.

Gianluca Arnone

Cinematografo, March 22, 2024


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