‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ Review: Hit Me Panda… One More Time

kung fu panda 4 review

Kung Fu Panda 4 returns eight years later to continue Po’s journey as the Valley’s Dragon Warrior. He’s defeated his greatest foes, he’s respected by all, and he’s gained peak enlightenment, so then, what’s next for our loveable panda? 

This time around, Po is tasked with picking a predecessor, a new Dragon Warrior to protect the Valley (an odd goal since Po is as strong and lively as ever). He’s shown in the opening moments kicking the tail of an evil stingray terrorising a coastal town. Right off the bat, there’s a disconnect with the story.

That disconnect doesn’t falter as Kung Fu Panda 4 never entirely justifies its existence. It gears its new story towards younger audiences with a plethora of kiddy jokes and stakes as low as ever. This is new to the Kung Fu Panda universe since the original trilogy operated on a level that was enjoyable by kids and adults. Its silly jokes were in favour of a story that was mature enough to be relatable to all ages.

kung fu panda 4 review

After the forced events that set the plot into motion, Po (Jack Black) is looking for a protégé to take his spot as Dragon Warrior. Po quickly comes across Zhen (Awkwafina), a thieving grey fox doing what she does best, thieving. Awkwafina has mastered the cheeky sidekick role; Zhen is a character that will be immediately familiar to audiences, for better or worse. If you’ve watched an animated movie in the last five years, you’ve probably seen this done before and better. 

Po stops the thief and throws her in jail, but before he can pick his protégé, a new force threatens the Valley and all of China. The Chameleon (Viola Davis) wants to steal the Staff of Wisdom and use it to gather the abilities of all the villains in the Spirit Realm. Before Po can set off to stop the Chameleon, he realises he’s never been out of the Valley before. He reluctantly frees Zhen from her prison and enlists her to go on the journey with him since she knows much more about the outside world.

kung fu panda 4 review

They arrive in Juniper City, a bustling metropolis controlled by the Chameleon and her minions. Here is where they meet Han (Ke Huy Quan) and his plucky band of thieves that live in the sewers under the city. They contrive a plan to stop the Chameleon for good. Alongside the quickly-paced main plot is a meandering B-plot featuring Po’s fathers. It’s so meandering that if you cut it out of the movie, almost nothing would be lost aside from the charming performances of James Hong and Bryan Cranston. 

The Chameleon is a shapeshifting villain that creatively yet nostalgically morphs into many familiar villains of the past. The constant reissue of familiar icons reminds us of a magical time long forgotten. A perfect example of this is Viola Davis’ performances as she tries to bring a sinister side to her villain but too often the character’s toothless actions undermine the strong vocal performance. That constant reminder of the good times is why the soul of Kung Fu Panda 4 is nowhere to be found. No longer are we striving for inner peace or reuniting families. Rather we are chasing a familiar formula that stronger animated movies have long mastered. 

kung fu panda 4 review

Worst of all, Jack Black’s quippy antics feel chained behind a wall of a mediocre script. The hilarious nature of his previous performances as Po, or even more recently as Bowser in The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023), is nowhere to be found here. The only moment he truly shines is in the Tenacious D cover of ‘…Baby One More Time.’ Ironically, it was the same thing the producers must have said to him when they brought in the Kung Fu Panda 4 script.

Fun Fact:

This film marks the first time that Po refers to himself as the “Kung Fu Panda.”

Kung Fu Panda 4
'Kung Fu Panda 4' fails to recapture the series' charm, focusing on a simplistic plot for younger audiences and lacking the depth and humour that made previous entries appealing to all ages.
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About author
Trenton Yeary is a graduate from Missouri State University with a Bachelor’s in Digital Film and Master's in Dramatic Writing. He’s recently moved to Los Angeles to pursue his love of film and popcorn. Deserted island movie collection: Any Brad Pitt movie or multiple copies of Rango (2011).


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