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Kung Fu Panda 4 has enough kick for young audiences

Mike Mitchell directs Universal Pictures' Kung Fu Panda 4 with Jack Black reprising his iconic role of Po. Darren Lemke, Jonathan Aibel, and Glenn Berger pen the screenplay. The film continues the popular "Kung Fu Panda" franchise. After three death-defying adventures defeating world-class villains with his unmatched courage and mad martial arts skills, Po, the Dragon Warrior (Black), is called upon by destiny to take a break. More specifically, the universe wants Po to become the spiritual leader of the Valley of Peace.

The situation facing Po presents various challenges. Firstly, pressing concerns are his need for knowledge of spiritual leadership and the need to urgently identify and train a new Dragon Warrior before he can commence his new position. The situation is further compounded by the recent appearance of the formidable and powerful sorceress, Chameleon (Viola Davis), who can shapeshift into any creature, regardless of size. Chameleon has her sights set on Po's Scroll of Wisdom, which grants her the power to summon all the master villains Po has defeated back to the spirit realm.

Po recognizes that he requires assistance and finds it in Zhen (Akwafina), a crafty and quick-witted thief who is a corsac fox whose skills prove invaluable. Together, they embark on a quest to secure the Valley of Peace from the clutches of Chameleon. Along their journey, Po learns that heroes can arise from the unlikeliest places.

The first "Kung Fu Panda" was one of the biggest surprises of 2008, considering it hit theaters on the coattails of Pixar's "Wall-E." Now that we are on the fourth film, the series has a vast undertaking. No matter what the franchise is, the audience may feel that the actors are merely phoning in the performances by the time the quad sequel arrives. Thankfully, the creative team behind this quad sequel knows that the film's strength will hinder the chemistry of Black and Akwafina.

The natural chemistry between Black and Akwafina results in a swift runtime that will undoubtedly please the guardians of young viewers. Additionally, Viola Davis's superb portrayal of a villainess is refreshing as it defies common stereotypes, allowing the EGOT winner to immerse herself in the role entirely.

The returning cast, which includes Dustin Hoffman as the Kung Fu master, Shifu, James Hong as Po's adoptive father, Mr. Ping, Bryan Cranston as Po's birth father, Li, and Ian McShane as Tai Lung, Shifu's former student and arch-nemesis, all deliver exceptional voice work. Moreover, the addition of Awkwafina, Viola Davis, and Ke Huy Quan, who portrays Han, the Den of Thieves leader, as new characters, further enhances the ensemble.

My son and I also enjoyed the film's martial arts sequences; the animation is still glorious. "Kung Fu Panda 4" is harmless, but the film isn't without its failings. The message about doing the right thing and finding your inner confidence isn't anything we haven't seen before. In addition, the humor is primarily tailored for mature audiences - but don't fret - young tykes will be delightfully engaged too, and that's exactly who this film is for,

Final Grade: B-

"Kung Fu Panda 4" opens in theaters tomorrow.


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