The “Kung Fu Panda” trilogy is one of the most formative pieces of entertainment. It’s definitely a lot of people’s introduction to Wuxia (it literally translates to “martial heroes” and is the genre that explores their escapades in ancient China). And directors John Stevenson, Mark Osborne, Jennifer Yuh Nelson, and Alessandro Carloni, along with their team of animators, writers, and artists, pushed the boundaries of animation via the trilogy. Apart from those three movies, you are probably aware of the holiday specials and TV series on NBC, Nickelodeon, and Amazon Prime Video, which look, for the lack of a better word, cheap. Now, for some reason, if your expectations from “Kung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight” are high, then please regulate it before bing-ing the Netflix show because it is truly horrendous.
“Kung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight” follows Po (Jack Black) as he goes on a food trip through ancient China, after surprisingly being urged to do so by his father, Mr. Ping (James Hong). But that is cut short when a pair of weasels, Veruca Dumont (Della Saba) and Klaus Dumont (Chris Geere), attack the village that’s home to a precious gauntlet. Po not only fails to stop Veruca and Klaus from getting away with the gauntlet, but also causes a significant amount of damage to the village. So, the emperor strips him off of his Dragon Warrior title and sets him on a journey to right this wrong and redeem himself in the eyes of the people, the emperor, and himself. It is on this journey that Po comes across Wandering Blade (Rita Ora), who is after the weasels too. And they hurry to catch the villainous duo before they use the gauntlet (and three other magical weapons) to destroy the world.
To be very honest, there are no redeeming qualities to “Kung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight.” Unless someone says otherwise, it seems like a cheaply-made show for toddlers. Only those with zero-to-minimum comprehension skills can stare at these 11 episodes, each of which is 24 minutes long. The Netflix description states that the official certification is U/A 7+. It is hard to imagine a 7-year-old in this day and age being enthralled by such subpar material. At the risk of sounding like a geriatric man, back in the day, studios made shows like “Space Ghost Coast To Coast,” “Dexter’s Laboratory,” “Johnny Bravo,” “The Powerpuff Girls,” “Samurai Jack,” “The Bugs Bunny Show,” “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!,” “Tom and Jerry,” “Ducktales,” “Recess,” “Spongebob Squarepants” and “Avatar” to keep kids enthralled. And the quality of their animation holds up even now and maybe even rivals modern animated shows. So, it’s a shame to see that this is what kids have to make do with.
The story is very by-the-numbers. So, naturally, most of the heavy-lifting needs to be done by the visuals. And they are tough to look at. It is so stilted and devoid of flair that you have to go back to the original “Kung Fu Panda” trilogy to check if the franchise has always been this bad or if it’s just the show. As someone who has done exactly that, I can say that it’s just the show. The cloth simulations, the character animations, and the skin texture are similar to one of the “Kung Fu Panda” movies. The one from 2008. But upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that the first “Kung Fu Panda” has so much dynamic virtual camerawork, energetic editing, and amazing action choreography. There’s none of that here. No shade on the animators, though, who probably did exactly what they were paid to do and more. The onus is on the studio, the streaming platform, the directors, the writers, and well, everyone except the animation team, who thought it was okay to put out a shoddy show like this.
The voice acting is fine. James Hong, Jack Black, Rita Ora, Della Saba, Chris Geere, and everyone else in the cast are here to collect a paycheck. They know full well that they are not winning any awards with this. Yet, they give it their best. You can hear them trying to infuse so much into their characters, but none of it is being relayed to us due to the animation. So, essentially, all of this talent is being wasted.
In conclusion, please watch the original “Kung Fu Panda” trilogy and call it a day. It is available on Netflix. So it won’t be that hard to find. Don’t wade into the murky waters made of horribly animated episodic extensions of the Dragon Warrior’s adventures. You’ll only be wasting your time. Nothing more, nothing less. Don’t even put your toddler or, as Netflix suggests, anyone over the age of seven (under parental guidance) in front of this show. Help them develop their taste by showing them well-made shows (no doubt, for kids) that are made with care and love. For example, “We Bare Bears,” “Gravity Falls,” “Hilda,” “City of Ghosts,” “Maya and the Three,” “Trollhunters,” “Dead End – Paranormal Park,” “Teen Titans Go!”, “The Cuphead Show,” and “Shaun, the Sheep.” Just don’t let them think that they deserve something like “Kung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight.”