Review by Cole Groth
It’s been 14 years since we were introduced to beloved panda Po Ping and his kick-ass Kung Fu skills, and in that time, we’ve been treated to three excellent films. What makes those films so good is how unique the setting is, how the script treats his character, and the general sense of adventure that being the Dragon Warrior takes Po on. After two TV series expanded the series without Jack Black as the voice of Po, it’s nice to see that Kung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight brings back Black in what’s supposed to be more of a return to form. However, bringing back the original voice actors isn’t enough to salvage this incredibly cheap production of lazy animation and boring storytelling.
One of my biggest gripes with this show is how they treat Po’s character. Within the first 15 minutes or so of the first episode, Po’s legacy as the Dragon Master is stripped from him after a disastrous adventure to get “Fat Gobs” (a term which makes as little sense as it sounds and is repeated dozens of times in the first episode). It’s a jarring exchange that feels largely unfair to his character. It doesn’t help either that the awful writing makes this an unbearable show for anybody but little children.
While discussing my dislike for the show with my dad, he commented that it’s okay for the show to be bad “because it’s for kids.” I absolutely hate that excuse. I understand that the show isn’t meant to be a work of art, but this entire franchise has focused on children as the primary audience, and so far, they haven’t missed. This show ultimately feels like a lazy attempt at continuing the franchise. What makes it so apparent is just how bad the animation is. Some moments go into a traditional 2D animation style that is visually very appealing, and it makes me wonder why they didn’t do it for the whole series. Except for those moments, we’re stuck with this poorly-lit, uncanny valley version of our lovable titular Kung Fu Panda.
In addition to the poor animation, the new characters and story we follow are lame as can be. We no longer get to see the Furious Five in action to face the new threat, two whiny rat-like creatures who steal a mighty gauntlet. Instead, we follow an unlikeable female warrior who only focuses on how much better than Po she is. I would appreciate this series more if we didn’t have to sit through nearly a dozen episodes slandering Po as anything less than the most powerful warrior in all of China. On a more serious note, the dialogue is a complete struggle to get through, with each twenty-minute episode containing dozens of lines that’ll make even the intended audience cringe.
Overall, it’s nice to see that there’s still a story available for Po, but it’s a shame that this new adventure for Po is quite possibly his lamest yet. If people who cared more about this franchise developed this, we could’ve seen a genuinely great TV series with the original cast returning. Hopefully, Netflix will learn from this, but if history shows us anything, they won’t.
Kung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight will stream on Netflix starting July 14th. All eleven episodes reviewed.