The trailer for the long-anticipated sequel to the Kung Fu Panda trilogy has been out for a while now, and with less than a month left before its official release, let’s break down what we know for this film and what our expectations should be, especially considering the weaker landing of Kung Fu Panda 3 as compared to its first two films; will Kung Fu Panda 4 it rectifies its past mistakes and to remain one of Dreamwork’s best franchises, or will it continue to project Kung Fu Panda down a downward trajectory?
Kung Fu Panda 4: Plot Summary
We learn from the trailer that Po is now destined to leave his position as the Dragon Warrior and ascend to a higher plane as the spiritual leader of the Valley Of Peace. Meanwhile, a villain known as the Chameleon is stealing the powers of Kung Fu Masters and taking their form. To defeat her, Po travels to another city and employs the help of a street thug named Zen, his potential successor, to raise an army of thieves against the Chameleon.
The New Villain: Chameleon
One of the big highlights of this trailer was the introduction of The Chameleon. This new villain can absorb the power of other Kung Fu fighters and mimic their form and abilities, making her one of the deadliest villains Po will have to face yet. A concern with her introduction is that her ability to mimic the power of others is seemingly very similar to Kai’s ability from the previous film, in which he absorbs the Chi of other kung fu masters.
The main difference, however, would be that Kai used the absorbed power to bring back the kung fu masters as brainless “jombies,” whereas Chameleon replicates the power and form of the absorbed masters in herself. Whether this is a satisfying enough difference remains up to the viewer, but the similarity cannot be dismissed entirely.
Another concern is that this familiar ability allows for the recycling of past villains, of whom we have only seen Tai Lung make an appearance in the trailer, and with further sneak-peeks confirming Shen will also be making an appearance.
It has always been believed that the franchise was scheduled for six films, and there has yet to be any indication that this one shall be the last, so why are we already bringing back old villains?
Old characters have often been brought back into significant franchises, and they inevitably depend too much on nostalgia, allowing the story to become more bland and lackluster. Whether this will be the case with Kung Fu Panda 4 is yet to be seen, but there are hints that villains like Tai Lung may even be in for a celebrated redemption arc.
Po’s Journey: Reusing Past Tropes?
The latest information from the trailer reveals the next step in Po’s evolution: finding a new successor for his mantel as the Dragon Warrior so he can ascend to the higher seat of being the spiritual leader for the entire Valley of Peace.
The trailer starts with the usual light-hearted comedy relating to Po’s personality seemingly misaligned with that of a spiritual leader and familiar urging from Master Shifu that Po was always “destined for something greater.”
People who have been avid franchise fans for years are all too familiar with this sort of scene. Despite the point of the films that Po moves at an upward trajectory in his life journey, the last movie entirely resolved Po’s inner identity crisis and his doubts about being the Dragon Warrior, fully solidifying his role in reviving the Panda community and protecting the Valley of Peace.
Therefore, it seems a bit sudden that we should already be moving on from this resolution and bringing back the old tropes of Po, being unsure and unresolved at the notion of ascending to higher levels, despite the ending of the ending of the previous film showing Po entirely at peace with himself as well as leading the Valley of Peace.
Current Theme: What Should We Expect?
It is still being determined whether the franchise is headed into a consistent drop in quality or not; what remains as a fact from this trailer is that it will be exploring a new direction despite bringing back old villains and character tropes. This can be most majorly noticed with the absence of The Furious Five, the team of Kung Fu masters that have been with Po since the first film, most notably Tigress.
With the film’s aim to find a potential successor for Po as the Dragon Warrior, it is strange that the trailer should hint at Zen as the most likely candidate. However, it would be a good choice, as it would parallel Po’s ascension to the post of Dragon Warrior from his lowly status, compared with Zen’s status as a thief.
However, it begs the question: why not one of the Five? This was initially a plot point in the first film, with Tigress feeling she should have been chosen to become the Dragon Warrior and was much more capable than Po at the time. This further ties into the Furious Five’s absence from this trailer, but perhaps we still need to learn their role in this film, however minor.
In conclusion, many things about this trailer seem off-putting besides the comedy, which is entirely subjective to the audience. A point to note, if any of these such concerns bother you for the quality of this film as an addition to the franchise, is that Kung Fu Panda trailers have never been the best in general, with highlighted corny jokes catered to young audiences, the trailer for Kung Fu Panda 2 being an example of this. However, Kung Fu Panda 2 is the best in the franchise, with one of the most compelling villains and emotional storylines. Therefore, such fears can be alleviated, but this film may be mediocre.
Either way, only time will tell, with the film being released in March 2024.