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‘Kung Fu Panda 4’: Made for the wrong audience

Zhen attempts to stop Po’s sneeze in “Kung Fu Panda 4.” According to “Kung Fu Panda 4” director Mike Mitchell, the creation of another two sequels on top of “Kung Fu Panda 4” is very possible. (Photo: DreamWorks)

So, you’ve got a successful movie series and a generation that grew up watching them as childhood favorites. These films made actors famous and created iconic characters and villains. But, you’re out of new “bad guy” ideas. The solution? “Kung Fu Panda 4,” directed by Mike Mitchell and released in theaters on March 8, brings back old villains, much like “Spiderman: No Way Home” did in 2021. 

The “Kung Fu Panda” series — produced by Dreamworks — has become synonymous with children’s comedy and entertainment. Each film has had iconic scenes that have been turned into viral memes on short-form content platforms such as TikTok. For a kid’s movie, the sense of humor is not lost on older generations. Yet this does not seem to hold true for “Kung Fu Panda 4.” The movie brings in some well-known comedic actors such as Jack Black, Awkwafina and Ronny Chieng, yet none of their natural stand-up talent is used in the movie. Additionally, some half-baked punchlines are inserted into scenes that are supposed to come off as serious. 

Although the Chameleon, the main antagonist of the movie, brings the previous villains back from the spirit realm and into the story, she does not have much of a story herself. Her overall motives for taking over cities are weak; all the audience is told is that she was rejected for her inferior kung fu abilities. Compared to Tai Lung, Shifu’s former student seeking revenge in the original “Kung Fu Panda” film, the Chameleon’s backstory seems lackluster. The Chameleon has no personality, which makes it impossible to understand her character.

A possible explanation for this drastic change in humor might be the change in directing. Mike Mitchell, the director of the movies “Trolls,” “Shrek Forever After” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” has a history of directing movies that are generally targeted toward young children. However, “Kung Fu Panda 4” does not fit those categories. Unlike Mitchell’s works, previous movies in the “Kung Fu Panda” series were fairly creative and mainly use the characters’ actions as a source of entertainment, whereas the movies produced by Mitchell generate humor through conversations between characters, a drastic difference from other animated children’s comedies. 

If there are memorable characters who have come out of the series, it would be Po and the Furious Five. The Furious Five are Po’s friends and partners in protecting the Valley of Peace, yet they are absent from “Kung Fu Panda 4.” The excuse for this? Po explains that they are each doing other things to protect the Valley of Peace. The Furious Five are as much a heart of the previous movies as Po is, yet his randomly introduced father who has zero influence on the plot gets more attention than they do. They were Po’s inspiration, his guidance and his mentors. According to Mitchell, in an interview with Next Best Picture, the movie was supposed to explain the Five’s absence in an understandable manner in connection to the rest of the storyline.

“They [the Furious Five] have split off, and they each have an individual mission that they’re doing,” Mitchell said. “So, you’ll learn about that in the context of the film.”

But the context explaining the Five’s mysterious disappearance from the film is nonexistent. The Five are played by iconic voice actors such as Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, and Angelina Jolie. Their comedic relief is necessary in the movie, and their guidance of Po is far more fitting than the use of his adopted father and actual father as mentors.

Overall,  “Kung Fu Panda 4” had high expectations from us, but met nearly none of them. From the absence of the iconic Furious Five and the appealing humor, this film took a classic kid’s movie franchise and removed the parts that made it so good. Every previous villain is forcefully reused, and it doesn’t seem like there is room for the series to go any further, as Po has passed on his title of Dragon Warrior. If there is one thing to be said about “Kung Fu Panda 4,” it’s that it is a disappointing end to a story that was made for everyone to enjoy.

“Kung Fu Panda 4” will be showing all times from 10 a.m. to 10:15 p.m. for the next week at Cinemark Century Mountain View 16.

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About the Contributors
Evan Chien
Evan Chien, Senior Staff Writer
Evan Chien (Class of 2025) joined The Voice his sophomore year and enjoys reading, swimming, hanging out with friends and gaming in his free time.
Andrew Zhao
Andrew Zhao, Culture Editor
Andrew Zhao (Class of 2026) joined The Voice in his sophomore year and enjoys playing tennis and water polo.

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