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Every Kung Fu Panda Movie Ranked From Worst To Best


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Summary

  • Kung Fu Panda
    and its sequels have a lot of heart and feature a talented cast that plays off each other well, contributing to the franchise’s longevity.

  • Kung Fu Panda
    was culturally accurate and well-received in China, serving as an example of cultural appreciation done right.

  • While all the entries in the
    Kung Fu Panda
    trilogy are solid, the first movie remains the best in terms of quality, originality, and heart.

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The Kung Fu Panda franchise has been going strong since 2008, but there’s definitely a best and worst movie in Dreamworks’ trilogy. Despite being dismissed by some as yet another soulless big-budget 00s CGI kid’s movie on the first movie’s release, Kung Fu Panda and the sequels have a lot of heart. The motley cast of stars which includes Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, and Dustin Hoffman seems mismatched in any other context. Yet, in Kung Fu Panda, the actors play off each other just right — a key ingredient in the franchise’s longevity.

So popular and culturally accurate were Po’s adventures in China that they made the Chinese film industry stop and reflect. Chinese film director Lu Chuan famously said on Kung Fu Panda in 2008 “I cannot help wondering when China will be able to produce a movie of this caliber” (via Reuters). In a world where Westernized takes on other cultures often fall flat, Kung Fu Panda remains an example of cultural appreciation done right. However, not all Kung Fu Panda movies are made equal. It’s difficult to compare the entries in this incredibly solid trilogy, but there is a definite winner when it comes to competing for the title of the best Kung Fu Panda movie.

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3 Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

The Angsty Middle-Child In The Kung Fu Panda Trilogy

Sequels often serve as the make-or-break point for a franchise, so when Jack Black’s Po, Hoffman’s Master Shifu, and the star-studded Furious Five returned in 2011, there were high expectations. Kung Fu Panda 2 ended up being a darker continuation, with a stark take on the endangered status of pandas. Kung Fu Panda 2 features most of the cast of the first movie but also introduces many new characters. Notably, Kung Fu Panda 2 cameos Jean-Claude Van Damme as Master Croc and Gary Oldman as the villainous peacock Shen.

The second Kung Fu Panda opens with the rulers of Gongmen City, a family of peacocks who have invented fireworks. Unfortunately, fireworks also means access to deadly gunpowder. The family’s only son, Oldman’s Shen, reacting to a prophecy that he will be defeated by a black and white warrior, uses the gunpowder to genocidally wipe out pandas.

Po was saved by his late mother, who stowed him away in a shipment of radishes for Mr. Ping (James Hone, who also starred in Turning Red) to eventually find. It’s a natural continuation of the first Kung Fu Panda and sets the stage for Kung Fu Panda 3, but it lacks the widespread character and world development that separate good sequels from great sequels. Essentially, Kung Fu Panda 2 functions as the middle child of the franchise: a welcome addition, but frankly a little forgettable.

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2 Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)

The Heartfelt Former-Finale For The Trilogy

Kung Fu Panda 3

Kung Fu Panda 3

Release Date
January 29, 2016

Director
Jennifer Yuh , Alessandro Carloni

Cast
Seth Rogen , Jack Black , Lucy Liu , Jackie Chan , Dustin Hoffman , J. K. Simmons , David Cross , Angelina Jolie , Kate Hudson , Bryan Cranston , James Hong

Runtime
95minutes

Few franchises can boast a third movie like Kung Fu Panda 3. The cast in Kung Fu Panda 3 takes the star power of the franchise to the next level. Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston and J.K. Simmons join the list of stars lending their voices to the franchise, with Cranston playing Po’s father, Li Shan, and Simmons portraying this film’s villain, Kai the spirit warrior yak.

In the third movie, Po finally meets his long-lost father, Li Shan. What follows is a heartwarming journey of family, friendship, and heritage. This movie also reintroduces Kung Fu Panda’s concept of Chi, a source of power lying within every warrior that has the potential to unleash their inner dragon. The film includes a touching moment of father-to-father advice. When Po rebukes his father for lying about pandas’ ability to still harness their Chi, adoptive dad Mr. Ping explains to Li Shan that Po getting upset and frustrated with him is simply a part of being a parent.

This leads Li Shan to promise that his clan will help in the fight against Kai and apologize to Po, who in turn starts training the pandas to turn their everyday chores as kung fu. Eventually, Po manages to defeat Kai not through his sheer strength and will, but with the combined efforts (and Chi) of all his family and friends.

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1 Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Kung Fu Panda

Release Date
June 6, 2008

Director
John Stevenson , Mark Osborne

Runtime
92 minutes

Typically, the first film in a franchise is difficult to surpass in terms of quality, originality, and heart. The original Kung Fu Panda movie is no exception, and remains the best movie in the trilogy. The inaugural movie of the fantasy-fueled, wuxia-inspired Kung Fu Panda series is full of hope, nuance, and originality.

At first, Po is a clumsy kung fu super fan who still lives with his dad. He’s the last person in the Kung Fu Panda universe that Master Shifu and the Furious Five would expect to be the Dragon Warrior. Yet, as the movie progresses, Po’s inner strength, kind heart, and determination prove him worthy of the title. Po develops a new style of Kung Fu that’s unique to his strengths, adding a message of body positivity and self-love to this family film. This — and the Bruce Lee connection — is the heart and soul of Kung Fu Panda.

Kung Fu Panda‘s message not only encourages the tolerance of differences: it also shows how the celebration and nurturing of such differences can benefit the entire community. The Kung Fu Panda franchise revitalized the animation genre throughout the late 2000s and early 2010s. Since then, the series holds true to one core ideal — self-belief makes anything possible.

What About The Kung Fu Panda TV Shows?

The Furious Five in Kung Fu Panda 3

There have been many Kung Fu Panda TV spinoffs and tie-ins throughout the years. Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness ran on Nickelodeon from 2011-2016. It received a slew of awards, introduced a ton of new characters, and had a catchy Saturday morning cartoon theme song for Po. It followed the adventures of the Dragon Warrior and Furious Five between Kung Fu Panda and Kung Fu Panda 2. Next came Kung Fu Panda: The Paws Of Destiny on Amazon Prime in 2018.

Paws of Destiny released a second season in 2019 and is set after Kung Fu Panda 3. It details Po training a new generation of Chi-powered panda warriors. It wasn’t as well received as Legends of Awesomeness, although many fans did appreciate the serialized narrative that ran throughout. Finally, in 2022, Netflix released Kung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight, which saw the Dragon Warrior traverse the globe.

In addition, there have been multiple shorts throughout the years released on various platforms, including Netflix, which build on the established Kung Fu Panda lore. These have varying animation styles and mainly serve to add backstory to the Furious Five and historical Kung Fu masters Po idolizes. These include 2008’s Secrets of the Furious Five, 2010’s Kung Fu Panda Holiday, 2011’s Secrets of the Masters, and 2016’s Secrets of the Scroll.

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What We Know About Kung Fu Panda 4

Six years after Kung Fu Panda 3 in 2016, the Disney-fighting studio behind Shrek, DreamWorks, announced that Kung Fu Panda 4 has a March 8th, 2024 release date. Jack Black is returning as Po after his recent vocal performance in Kung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight showed he’s not done with the character.

The trailer reveals the story for Kung Fu Panda 4 will see Po traveling from the Valley of Peace to fulfill his destiny and gain the wisdom needed to become its spiritual leader. Along the way, he’ll have to face up against one of his most terrifying adversaries yet — an as-yet-unnamed Chamelone with the power to take the form of Po’s adversaries. The next movie is already set up to be an exciting return to the franchise, though where it ends up ranking compared to the rest of the Kung Fu Panda movies remains to be seen.

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