KUNG FU PANDA 3 (7 out of 10) Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni; Written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger; Starring Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, J.K. Simmons, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Kate Hudson, James Hong, Randall Duk Kim; Rated PG for "martial arts action and some mild rude humor"; Running time 95 min; In wide release January 29, 2015.

In the world of animated sequels, there are blatant cash grabs and then there are thoughtful films that expand the themes, characters, and mythology of their original film. While this is more the latter than the former, it's nothing that amazing or funny, especially given the quality of the first two films and the talents of the cast, all of whom return here.

New additions include Bryan Cranston as Po's long-lost father, who brings Po back to his home village so Po can learn the secrets of "Chi," the power known only to the panda tribe. JK Simmons also joins as a new villain, an undead master escaped from the spirit realm and the ability to posses other kung fu masters, who has a centuries-old grudge against the pandas and wants to wipe them out and posses their chi.

The film's heart comes in a story about finding one's true self -- a very zen, kung fu trope-- set against the backdrop of a tale of two fathers, two heritages. However, it's hampered by a script that at times seems garbled-- as if it were a not-quite-accurate translation of a foreign film that decided simplicity and parsimony were more important than theme and emotional resonance.

Still, it's not bad. But, as funny and heartfelt as the first two films were, this is a step back.

What is a giant step forward is the quality of the animation. An opening scene set in the spirit realm is the most gorgeous eye candy imaginable. This is worth seeing on the largest screen possible and in 3D, although children may not appreciate the beauty of some of the action sequences, especially when it is destined to be played ad nauseam on DVDs and Netflix.

This is a good film for kids, one destined not to overly annoy adults, but is little more than this. It's not the film's fault it doesn't live up to its predecessors, but it's hard not to be a little disappointed when this entry is neither as funny nor heartfelt.

7 out of 10

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