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The fun energy between Jack Black and new recruit Awkwafina adds freshness to Kung Fu Panda 4 and the action scenes are a blast but too much in the film is of the ‘been there, done that’ kind.

I was sceptical how much mileage DreamWorks could get out of a fourth entry in the Kung Fu Panda franchise after a disappointing set of sequels but Kung Fu Panda 4 provides a brisk, surprisingly entertaining 90 minutes at the multiplex.

Much of this is due to new additions to the cast, who all shine in a mix between great character design and scene-chewing voice acting. From Viola Davis’ shape-shifting villain The Chameleon tot Ke Huy Quan’s lisping pangolin and a trio of sardonic violence-worshipping bunnies: the new characters all pop on the screen.

None does so more than Awkwafina’s sly fox Zhen, whose interactions with panda Po recall the charming clash of personalities between the leading duo in Disney’s Zootopia film. Awkwafina adds humour, zip and vulnerability to her line readings and all but steals the show from Jack Black’s Po.

Characters alone do not build a great film of course, and here they are mostly let down by a slight narrative that thunders towards a dime-a-dozen finale with predicable moral lessons, albeit with some flashy fights and laugh-out-loud confrontations along the way.

Finally, kudos to the animation team for producing a film on about half the budget of the previous franchise entries without compromising on visual delights and coming up with some of the most endearingly entertaining and memorable scenes of the entire series.

release: 2024

director: Mike Mitchell

starring: Jack Black, Awkwafina, Viola Davis, James Hong


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