You might not know about the Dreamworks curse, but I assure you it’s very real (with objective data to back it up). The Dreamworks curse is where a Dreamworks animated franchise peaks at its second installment and then only goes downhill in quality from there. Sometimes the decline is dramatic (the Trolls and Shrek franchises) and sometimes it’s only minor (How to Train Your Dragon). II would be interesting to find out why this phenomenon happens. And it has definitely happened to the Kung Fu Panda series.


Kung Fu Panda 4 continues the story of Po, the panda ninja who was chosen to be the “Dragon Warrior.” He loves his life as a crime fighting local celebrity. However, he is informed that he has to choose a successor very soon. There is no reasonable explanation as to WHY he needs to choose one, but it is a good catalyst for the story and the theme of the film.

Po’s choosing is interrupted when he hears of new villain: The Chameleon. This new antagonist has the ability to change her appearance at will through a combo of her natural abilities and dark magic. He then comes across a fox named Zhen, who informs Po that she can help him find and defeat the Chameleon, which Po readily does in order to avoid the change to his life in giving up being the Dragon Warrior.


The Chameleon is played by Viola Davis, who is as incredible as she’s ever been. Between this role and her role in the Hunger Games prequel she is really showing that she can be a villain as well as any of the greats. Sometimes we say that character actors like Gary Oldman are “chameleons” in how they can become unrecognizable in certain roles. So, it’s only fitting that Davis is playing an ACTUAL chameleon to show that she is in that league.

Something that is nice is that almost all the new voices used in new roles are played by Asian actors. Ke Huy Quan plays an armadillo, and the man can do no wrong. And Ronny Chieng plays a fish, showcasing his great comedic chops.

The fox, Zhen, is played by Awkwafina, who is seemingly in almost every Universal animated feature of late. But that is not a good thing, in my view. Her voice is so recognizable, and she is more or less the same character in every voice role that her presence becomes a distraction more than a strength. I never bought her performance, unfortunately.

The film does have some redeeming qualities, however, despite having a fairly mediocre script. The third act really sticks the landing and hammers home the theme that happiness in change is possible.

As usual with the Kung Fu Panda films, the score is great. It’s not as good as previous films, though. This makes sense when you see that Hans Zimmer teamed with someone other than John Powell.

The Bottom Line

Kung Fu Panda 4 has a fairly mediocre script, but most of the vocal performances are incredible and the third act really sticks the landing. It’s the weakest of the franchise, but still worthwhile.