Kung Fu Panda Movies Ranked Following Kung Fu Panda 4

Nearly 20 years after the original’s release, Po and company have returned for another adventure. Does Po rise to the challenge and return his beloved franchise to the top of the food chain? More importantly, is there enough “Skadoosh” left to place this third sequel atop the other Kung Fu chapters? Let’s take a look at our list of Kung Fu Panda movies ranked to find out.

4. Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)

Every animated franchise seems to follow a similar trajectory, leading to the main hero searching for their long-lost relatives. It took the Kung Fu Panda franchise three films to traverse this path, but alas, Po’s third adventure sees him meet up with his old man (voiced by Bryan Cranston), all the while battling a violent spirit warrior known as Kai (JK Simmons).

Beautifully animated but lacking the novelty and depth that made the first two offerings such a pleasant treat, Kung Fu Panda 3 stumbles because, well, it doesn’t have anything new to say. Po’s journey seemingly reaches its apex in the second chapter, where he learns to quiet his demons and achieve inner peace. Meeting the people who more or less abandoned him feels like a cop-out and doesn’t allow the character any room to grow. By now, the franchise is overstuffed with supporting characters, and directors Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandra Carloni struggle to bring the various elements into a formidable whole.

Kung Fu Panda 3 certainly isn’t bad. The impressive action sequences remain and Jack Black plays the role to perfection. However, following the first sequel, the third chapter feels more like an obligation than a necessary story continuation, which is why it is at the bottom of our list of Kung Fu Panda movies ranked.

3. Kung Fu Panda 4 (2024)

Well, you didn’t have to read for too long to arrive at this point. I was always skeptical of another Po adventure, mostly because the original trilogy concluded his journey in a mostly satisfying way. Still, following the impressive Puss and Boots: The Last Wish, I was intrigued by the ideas of a new approach to the Panda franchise.

Strangely, venturing into cinemas to see this latest effort made me feel like I had traveled back in time. Po’s antics suddenly feel tired, and the Panda aesthetic lacks the novelty it once possessed. There’s nothing here you haven’t seen in the series before, and the picture follows a well-worn template that deprives it of suspense. You know where the film is headed from the opening credits.

Still, I rate this one above the third chapter if only because it wisely jettisons supporting cast members and focuses on Po. Sure, his two dads (Cranston and James Hong) remain, but only in bite-sized roles. The Five are off on other adventures, leaving Po to enjoy a more personable journey alongside newcomer Zhen (Awkwafina). I was intrigued by Po’s task to find the next Dragon Warrior, a plot point the film mostly sets aside while our hero battles Viola Davis’ fascinating Chameleon. There was an opportunity here to do something truly unique, but the filmmakers instead cater to younger audiences and pack in as many fights, gags, and pratfalls as possible.

The animation certainly looks great, and a few gags work. I appreciated the bull in the China shop bit and Po’s lack of fame beyond his town—”Are all my adventures really that regional,” he asks—and I initially was intrigued by Zhen, a thief with a few skeletons in her closet.

Unfortunately, it all builds to a ho-hum climax that wastes the return of past villains and ends in a manner more fit for a TV show than a motion picture. That said, there is potential to continue this journey, with Po taking Master Shifu’s place as a mentor to Zhen. With any luck, the powers that be will find a way to make that storyline continue. Until then, consider Kung Fu Panda 4 an enjoyable piece of trite entertainment.

2. Kung Fu Panda (2008)

As stated, Kung Fu Panda felt like a novelty when it hit theaters. Yeah, it was goofy, but the picture, directed by John Stevenson and Mark Osborne, also dipped into deeper themes regarding self-discovery, facing our fears, balance, and harmony—heady themes for a film featuring cute, talking animals. Shifu’s climactic confrontation with Tai Lung (Ian McShane) is drenched with gravitas, while his relationship with Po merges old Kung Fu movie tropes with the Odd Couple. Characters change and progress surprisingly, and the clever script provides exciting interactions that could have played in a straightforward action picture.

Occasionally, the film veers too far into silly shenanigans. Po’s battle with Tai Lung is played for laughs, contrasting sharply with the villain’s dramatic backstory. It’s for kids. I get it. Why dumb it down after spending so much time creating compelling drama? Also, the fantastic supporting cast—Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, and Jackie Chan—aren’t given much to do. Why have so many big-name stars if you aren’t going to utilize all of them?

Nitpicks aside, Kung Fu Panda deserves mention among the great animated films. You’ll want to reach out and hug the whole movie like a great big, cuddly panda bear.

1. Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

Against all odds, director/writer Jennifer Yuh Nelson created a thrilling followup to Kung Fu Panda and finds unique ways to enhance the story, characters, themes, and relationships. As the adage goes, this sequel is darker and more grown-up but just as accessible as the original for youngsters and adults alike.

Picking up where the original left off, Panda 2 sees Po travel to Gongmen City to take on the ferocious Lord Shen (a delectable Gary Oldman), a sniveling peacock with links to our hero’s past. Po must quiet his inner demons, attain inner peace, let go of the past, and fulfill his destiny as the Dragon Warrior.

Kung Fu Panda 2 could have been a simplistic, by-the-numbers sequel. Instead, everyone involved brings their A-game, resulting in a thrilling action adventure with one heckuva payoff. Po’s final stand against Shen’s warships is cinematic brilliance. Nelson pulls out all the stops both visually and dramatically and keeps the stakes raised until that damned peacock bites the dust. There’s a poignancy here that is not often found in kiddie films, enough to make Kung Fu Panda and Kung Fu Panda 2 one helluva two-punch combo. If the original provides a powerful right hook, then the sequel delivers the killing blow, landing it at the top of our list of Kung Fu Panda movies.

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