'Kung Fu Panda 4' review: Jack Black still rocks 2
Po (Jack Black) in 'Kung Fu Panda 4.' Universal Pictures International

'Kung Fu Panda 4' review: Jack Black still rocks

The 'Kung Fu Panda' franchise began in 2008 with the first film which introduced us to the clumsy panda Po, his goose adopted father Ping, and the Furious Five kung-fu masters.
Fred Hawson | Mar 06 2024

Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) told Po (Jack Black) that time had come for him to choose his successor as the new Dragon Warrior. It was time for Po to step into role vacated by the late Master Oogway, as the Spiritual Leader of the Valley of Peace. Since he was still enjoying the celebrity status of being the Dragon Warrior, Po did not think he was ready to give that up yet. They began auditioning likely candidates, only for Po to reject them. 

One day, Po encountered a thief stealing ancient weapons at the Jade Palace. She was a fox named Zhen (Awkwafina), whom he defeated and brought to justice. She told him about a new threat -- a reptilian shapeshifting foe called "The Chameleon" (Viola Davis). This evil creature recently took on the form of Po's old foe Tai Lung (Ian McShane) to terrorize local miners. Zhen volunteered to go with Po to fight this powerful new enemy. 

The "Kung Fu Panda" franchise began in 2008 with the first film which introduced us to the clumsy panda Po, his goose adopted father Ping (James Hong) and the Furious Five kung-fu masters (who all did not join this newest adventure). Being a big box-office success, it was followed by two sequels, first in 2011, when Po fought his peacock nemesis Shen; and another one in 2016, when Po met his biological panda father Li Shan (Bryan Cranston). 

All the Po witticisms and shenanigans we have come to expect through the years are still here. Jack Black surely knew how to deliver the goods fans have loved throughout the years, and the rolicking laughter of kids and parents alike throughout the screening is proof of that. 

The veteran actors voicing the elder characters -- Dustin Hoffman, Bryan Cranston, and 95 year-old James Hong -- were all still in touch with their inner kids.

I did not immediately pick up Awkwafina's voice as Zhen, as it did not seem to have her signature rasp. Viola Davis's turn as the Chameleon dripped with sinister greed, as her character overcompensates for her lack of kungfu skills. Ke Huy Quan had a minor but funny turn as Han, the pangolin head of the thieves. Ian McShane's voice as the snow leopard Tai Lung was as chilling as ever, yet this time, also a touch of pathos. 

The comedy sequences were hilarious and kid-friendly, more of what the franchise has always been beloved for. Again the highlights were really those major action set pieces -- all executed with frenetic speed and neatness in the rendering. The highlight would be that spectacular parade of past baddies (aside from Tai Lung, there's white peacock Shen, among others) back from the Spirit Realm. 

As a final bonus, Jack Black's rendition of "Baby One More Time" at the end really rocked.

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."