Kung Fu Panda 4

Shifu, voiced by Dustin Hoffman, and Po, voiced by Jack Black, appear in the animated movie “Kung Fu Panda 4.” (OSV News photo/Universal)

NEW YORK (OSV News) – The non-Judeo-Christian philosophical ideas that weighed down its immediate predecessor have mostly been excised from “Kung Fu Panda 4” (Universal). As a result, all but the smallest, most easily frightened moviegoers can patronize director Mike Mitchell’s good-hearted, but not especially memorable, production.

One of the movie’s themes is the need to accept change. So, as the story gets underway, Po (voice of Jack Black), the bear of the title, learns that he’s headed for just such an alteration.

His testy longtime mentor, Master Shifu (voice of Dustin Hoffman), informs Po that he needs to relinquish his current position as Dragon Warrior, i.e., supreme martial artist of the Valley of Peace, in order to take on his new role as the valley’s spiritual leader. Such a promotion, however, has no appeal for Po, who wants to go on battling bad guys indefinitely.

Much to Master Shifu’s annoyance, to avoid his pending advancement, Po embarks on a quest. His goal is to defeat The Chameleon (marvelous voice of Viola Davis), a wicked, shape-shifting lizard sorceress who has a scheme afoot to make the kung fu prowess of an array of deceased masters her own.

Po is aided on his mission by Zhen (voice of Awkwafina), a clever but morally deficient fox. He’s also shadowed by his biological father, Li Shan (voice of Bryan Cranston), and his adoptive dad, Mr. Ping (voice of James Hong), both of whom are concerned for his safety.

As Po tries to raise Zhen’s ethical standards, the script – penned by Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger and Darren Lemke – highlights the value of self-confidence and of a willingness to forgive. As for the disquieting metaphysical notions that accompanied Po’s third outing, they’ve largely been jettisoned, though brief references to communicating with the universe remain.

Older viewers may find the fight sequences tiresome and over-extended. They may long for more of the tranquil interludes set against pleasing landscapes evocative of China’s rich artistic legacy.

But, as Po likes to remind us – using slightly less euphemistic wording – his specialty is putting the boot into the posteriors of his opponents. Watch that lizard leap.

The film contains cartoon violence, characters in peril and a scatological sight gag. The OSV News classification is A-I – general patronage. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.


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