Po is sent on a personal journey to match his plot-driven one, and it's here that the paper-thin characterization can be seen a mile away. Po's master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) is retiring, and he wants Po to take his place as teacher of the Furious Five (a once-again underserved Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, David Cross, and Lucy Liu). In trying to imitate Shifu's teaching style, Po utterly fails, but it's immediately obvious that he will get another chance at the panda village, where the predictably doughy and frivolous citizenry help him learn more about who he is. Po learns the standard animated film lesson about self-esteem and believing in oneself, but he learns it in a painfully obvious way that invites the viewer to write their own ending ten minutes into the film. Kung Fu Panda 2 surprised with the darkness and stakes of its plot, but #3 is uses cookie cutters, and not the way the ravenous pandas would prefer.
Nelson and Carloni do all they can to distract from the narrative, and they succeed thanks to the series' penchant for inventive editing and action. Paying homage to Hong Kong chop-socky films with their slash-screen transitions and montages, the directors and editor Clare Knight create memorable and compressed training sequences as skillful as any sports film. For example, one of the pandas, a ribbon dancer named Mei Mei (Kate Hudson), whips her ribbon between frames as she practices her never-not-funny art form, dividing the screen into fourths and fifths and then wrapping the ribbon around all of them and pulling them offscreen, serving as a wipe for the next scene. These produce cackles of what-did-I-just-watch amazement. On the action front, Kai, with his two swords at the end of chains and his chi abilities, is too formidable an opponent for most of the characters, including Po, who's ill-equipped to do battle with the new magical turn the franchise has taken. Nelson and Carloni effectively communicate both why and how Kai is a threatening presence, and Simmons sells both his malevolence and his comic frustration with how everyone has forgotten him.
The script for Kung Fu Panda 3 has its problems, but the overall experience is an effervescent and frenetic one that expands the franchise and ties it all back to the original. How To Train Your Dragon will likely continue to be the dominant creative force at Dreamworks for a lot of reasons, a big one being they haven't thus far had an anthropomorphic bird lay a bunch of eggs after being scared. Despite some clumsy missteps and hat-tips to the lesser aspects of the genre, the studio has a reliable second-place franchise. C+