Movie Review: ‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ feels a bit flabby

click to enlarge Movie Review: ‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ feels a bit flabby
DreamWorks Animation

The “Kung Fu Panda” series is running low on skadoosh.

“Kung Fu Panda 4,” the latest entry in the franchise, which began in 2008 (and we last visited in 2016), is a crisply animated family friendly adventure that doles out too many whirring fight scenes and not enough nuggets of wisdom. We do get lessons in teamwork, patience and inner peace, but a flimsy story and a weak villain don’t do Po — the big-hearted, Jack Black-voiced, dumpling-loving giant panda at the center of the saga — any favors.

Po is back in his tranquil Valley of Peace where he’s getting ready to choose his Dragon Warrior successor so he can ascend to the role of spiritual leader. But he’s not quite ready to give up his position just yet, despite the insistence of his wise Master Shifu (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) that it’s time he move on to the next phase in his life.

Meanwhile Po comes across a thieving fox named Zhen (voiced by Awkwafina) and squares off against the Chameleon (voiced by Viola Davis), a shape-shifting villain who can inhabit the body of whatever being she desires, an extremely loose interpretation of a chameleon’s key traits. And he’s called on to save the day from the Chameleon’s reign of terror, all while sending everyone off with a smile and a skadoosh, the Jack Black-ism which, when spoken, gives Po extra special powers.

It’s all delivered with a light touch by director Mike Mitchell (“Trolls”), although as the character double-crosses and monotonous battle sequences pile up in the film’s second half, the series’ Zen-like qualities are harshed. As a villain, the Chameleon’s powers to be anything end up reducing her to nothing, and as she embodies characters from “Kung Fu Panda” entries past, the series feels like it’s out of new things to say or do.

Po is still a kindly, lovable hero, and Black’s spunky voice work and oversize personality give him the creative license to cover Britney Spears’ “...Baby One More Time” over the closing credits, you know, just because. But when it comes to “Kung Fu Panda,” baby, four times is plenty. Master Shifu is right: it’s time to move on.

Graham reviews films for The Detroit News.

Grade C+

MPA rating: PG (for martial arts action/mild violence, scary images and some mild rude humor)

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.