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“Kung Fu Panda 4” Really, Really Tries

Written by: Treasure McCorkle | March 7th, 2024

Kung Fu Panda 4 (Mike Mitchell, 2024) 3 out of 5 stars

Director Mike Mitchell has some distinguished titles under his belt: from Shrek Forever After to Trolls, Mitchell is no stranger to animation and what it takes to make a classic. Some of the most iconic elements of the Kung Fu Panda series are their unique art direction and compelling antagonists, only furthered by their strong plots and commitment to the key themes depicted within them. There is a reason why these films are so ingrained in pop culture (“Skadoosh!”): they’re wholeheartedly fun and genuinely memorable. Basically, Kung Fu Panda 4 had very big shoes to fill.

With co-stars Jack Black (Weird: The Al Yankovic Story), as our favorite Dragon Warrior, Po, and Awkwafina (The Bad Guys), as new and feisty deuteragonist Zhen the Fox, Kung Fu Panda 4 takes an alternate route to the typical structure of the franchise’s stories by positioning Po as the Valley of Peace’s spiritual leader and having him be the person to choose the newest Dragon Warrior. One of the places that this film succeeds the most is in allowing Po to grow as a character while also sticking to his core values: food and kindness. He’s as endearing as ever; silly, but grounded in the fact that he is a leader now, and his heroic morals go unshaken.

l-r: Po (Jack Black) and Zhen (Awkwafina) in DreamWorks Animation’s KUNG FU PANDA 4.

Admittedly, though, the main antagonist, The Chameleon (Viola Davis, The Woman King), really steals the show with her highly inspired character designs, fight sequences, and personality. She is an incredibly fresh addition to the series, allowing the exploration of magic in the universe more than martial arts, something previously touched on but usually quite vaguely.

Where the film falls short, unfortunately, begins with its deuteragonist and the skeleton of a relationship that she builds with Po over the course of the narrative. The development of their dynamic feels lackadaisical, or predictable at best. Sly foxes that learn to become good have become really popular in animated films, and Zhen is no exception. It does not help that her character design is oddly modern and reminiscent of Disney’s 2016 Zootopia, given that this series is widely appreciated for its distinctive and timeless art style.

l-r: The Chameleon (Viola Davis) and Po (Jack Black) in DreamWorks Animation’s KUNG FU PANDA 4.

Generally speaking, the film is fun. Aside from some occasionally awkward dialogue and some very tired tropes, Kung Fu Panda 4 is an installment worth seeing, either for Viola Davis kicking some butt as a shapeshifter or for the 94 minutes of straight-up nostalgia.


Treasure McCorkle is an award-winning screenwriter and producer from Baltimore, Maryland. She has worked on many different projects in many roles, ranging from directing and producing to assisting art departments and providing casting direction, including the feature film Stealing Cars and her college-thesis film, AVA. In addition to this, Treasure has written many other acclaimed short films, ranging from family drama to psychological horror. Treasure is currently working on many different projects, including the development of audio drama series Valleyfell. You can see examples of her film work at .

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