Coming to theaters this Friday from directors Alessandro Carloni, Jennifer Yuh and DreamWorks Animation is the colorful return of everyone’s Panda with “Kung Fu Panda 3.”

Po (Jack Black) is still the ever-lively Dragon Warrior at the Jade Palace. Along with Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross) they keep the Valley of Peace, well, peaceful!

Having his moment of wonder, Po begins to ask questions about who he is and how to find the peace everyone talks about. While visiting his Dad Mr. Ping (James Hong), Po comes face to face with his biological father Li (Bryan Cranston). Excited beyond belief, Po also learns that there is a whole village of family waiting to meet him.

But Mr. Ping isn’t about to let his panda baby-boy go without him! When Po, Mr. Ping and Li arrive at the village, they welcome is more than the young Panda could ever have expected. He begins to learn the ways of the panda with fun, eating and rolling; the later might take some getting use to.

While Po is visiting his family roots, the Valley of Peace comes under attack. Shifu learns that Oogway’s (Randall Duk Kim) one-time friend Kai (J.K. Simmons) wants to squeeze everything from both the spiritual and real world. The only way Kai can do that is to collect the souls of all the kung fu masters and of the Dragon Warrior.

Tigress manages to escape finding Po in the panda village. Telling him everything there is only one way to stop Kai from destroying the family he has just come to understand and love. His plan is a simple one, train every person in the village in what they do best in order to save the village and return those that Kai has taken. Even Mr. Ping and Li have a moment of realization that coming together for the good of Po’s plan is what makes them both amazing fathers.

It is now time to become more of the Dragon Warrior than anyone, including Po would ever thought possible — but that’s the power of love, loyalty and family!

Black as Po returns to lend his unique style to the character of Po. In fact, I think it can be said without argument that no one could or should attempt to play the voice role of Po — ever. I love the comedy, the timing and just the love that comes through of Black voicing this character. Po has so many sweet qualities in that he loves being part of the Furious Five, he loves having Shifu for support, he wants to protect those that need protecting and even when he’s afraid he doesn’t let it stop him from protecting all those he has loved and the new family.

Cranston as panda-Dad Li is the carbon copy of Po in every way with a little more fun that Po embraces with such admiration and thrill. The scene inside the Jade Palace is hilarious! Hong as duck-Dad Mr. Ping has always been so protective of Po and no birth Dad is going to change that! Afraid he is going to lose that place in Po’s heart, every emotion is in his voice to the point where I wanted to reach through the screen and give him a hug.

Simmons as Kai is absolutely hilarious, even when he’s trying to be a tough guy I can’t help but laugh. When Kai thinks he can just take Po and become absolute in power my first thought was, “yea, he’s never met a Dragon Warrior like Po”. Yes, that pretty much makes me a fan. Simmons has such timing in his line delivery for comedy and at the same time a little scary when he yells — I mean yikes!

Jolie as Tigress stands behind Po and has come to a good place with her friendship with the Dragon Warrior and I couldn’t be happier, is that weird? I love Rogen as Mantis with his snappy lines, Chan as Monkey is fun, Cross as Crane is as steadfast as ever and Liu as Viper is still the fastest snake ever!

I have to give a shout out to Kim as Oogway. Never have I loved turtles more than the first time I heard Oogway give his pearls of wisdom to Po. I was equally thrilled to see him again in “Kung Fu Panda 3” if only because when he talks with Po, it is such a tender relationship filled with no judgment. We should all be so blessed to find an Oogway in our lives.

Other cast include: Kate Hudson as Mei Mei, Steele Gagnon as Bao, Liam Knight as Lei Lei, and Wayne Knight as Hom-Lee.

TUBS OF POPCORN: I give “Kung Fu Panda 3” four and a half tubs of popcorn out of five. I am an absolute fan of the first two “Kung Fu Panda” films and can honestly say I am thrilled for this film. There is everything amazing starting with the animation which is color, vibrant, beautiful and magically done. There is such fluidity in the movement of the characters and not just with the fight scenes but even as the pandas roll down the hill. It is a feast for the eyes and a delight for the child at heart in us all.

The storyline gives us answers as to Po’s life before being found by Mr. Ping and the family that has long believed he would return. We get to experience seeing Po become that part of himself he didn’t understand which made him a better panda, son, friend and Dragon Warrior. Po is already quite endearing but “Kung Fu Panda 3” takes that endearment to a whole new level of awesomeness.

This truly is a family film in ever way filled with fun, laughter, adventure and it is all wrapped up in a big rice ball of love. Every person in the audience was delighted and moved and isn’t that what a family film should be all about? Getting together to see a film that not only has something for everyone but allows every person experience it together.

In the end — grab destiny by the rice dumpling!

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About the Author

Jeri Jacquin

Jeri Jacquin covers film, television, DVD/Bluray releases, celebrity interviews, festivals and all things entertainment.