‘Kung Fu Panda 4’ kicks off the franchise fatigue blues to deliver a ripper adventure with lots of action and plenty of laughs

Bear with stick: Po embarks on another adventure on Kung Fu Panda 4′.

KUNG FU PANDA 4 ***1/2 (94 minutes) PG
It’s been a long time between roundhouse kicks – some eight years since the last film, in fact – yet Po and the team return with renewed vigour and a heightened sense of purpose in this rollicking, value-added and very funny fourth adventure.

What a sterling achievement. Four films in and there’s absolutely no sense of franchise fatigue. Here’s to more.

Secure in his position as Dragon Warrior, Po (voiced, of course, by Jack Black) is instructed by Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman, who must be loving his agent for getting him such a lucrative gig) that he must choose a replacement.

Po is also tasked with taking down The Chameleon (Viola Davis), a new-fashioned villain who can change shape at will in her quest to usurp all the martial arts skills from the kung fu masters and get hold of Po’s magical, dimension-crossing walking stick.

Accompanying him on his sojourn is Zhen (Awkwafina), thieving fox with a fast mouth and a morally flexible outlook on life.

Sporting the franchise’s usual high standard of animation – with plenty of attention to the mist-laden beauty of the remote, high-altitude landscapes Po and Zhen trek through, it’s a super-energetic escapade driven by snappy action sequences and golden moments of high-grade comedy.

Still, there’s meaning laced throughout the lark about friendship, betrayal and redemption.

While KFP4 is not an ostensibly Catholic film, it is fitting that it’s releasing here at Easter, a time when the soul-searching value of redemption is a big topic as people greedily wolf down kilos of discounted supermarket chocolate.

Given the family audience the film is intended for, it’s an unremarkable presumption that a big chunk of the Kung Fu Panda fanbase were brought into the world after the third movie came out in 2016, meaning they grew up with the films watching them at home.

So, this installment will be the first Kung Fu Panda film they see at the cinema. Here’s hoping it proves to be a sufficiently formative experience to sow the seeds of a life-long love.

As the film’s box office soars towards $US300 million, it is also worthy of note how DreamWorks Animation has picked up the baton dropped by Disney, which appears (temporarily, at least) to have lost touch with a large slice of its audience.

A quick survey of DWA’s output over the past 15 years shows how their storytelling has remained relatively free of the political correctness, identity politics and diversity themes that have plunged Disney into a creative crisis.

Shame that it is, it really boils down to a simple matter of keeping your eye on the ball.