‘Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny’ Review: The Franchise Comes Full Circle

Kung Fu Panda, a franchise worth over a billion dollars from its film trilogy alone, was first introduced to fans around the world over 10 years ago. The story of Po the panda’s rise to become a martial arts master (while also improving on his dumpling-eating skills over time) has delighted audiences of all ages over the last decade, both on the big screen and the small. The franchise has enjoyed holiday specials, one-off short videos, and an animated TV series. Now, a brand new series from DreamWorks Animation Television expands Po’s panda family and introduces a whole new branch of mythology to the universe in Amazon’s Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny.

Created by Emmy Award-winning executive producers Mitch Watson (All Hail King Julien), Elliott Owen (All Hail King Julien) and Lane Lueras (The Adventures of Puss in Boots), the series blends state-of-the-art animation and epic storytelling inspired by the beloved film franchise. All 13 half-hour episodes are available on Amazon Prime Video today.

Image via DreamWorks Animation Television, Amazon

The series features a cast including Chrissy Metz (This Is Us), Mick Wingert (Avengers Assemble, the Kung Fu Panda franchise), veteran actor James Hong (Kung Fu Panda franchise), Amy Hill (Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), and Laya DeLeon Hayes (Doc McStuffins).

But it’s a new cast of characters, and the talented performers who bring them to life, who are the central focus of this new kid-friendly series. The four newcomers are kids from panda village, some of whom dream of training under the legendary Po and others who are just along for the ride. They’re led by Nu Hai, the energetic leader of the group, voiced by Haley Tju (The Who Was? Show, Bella and the Bulldogs). Nu Hai harbors big dreams of being a kung fu master, and what she lacks in skill she makes up for in heart and determination. Bao (Nashville’s Gunnar Sizemore) is Nu Hai’s twin brother, a mischievous practical jokester who has a talent for stirring up trouble. Other than the twins, there’s Jing, the offbeat and unconventional kung fu warrior-in-training voiced by Laya DeLeon Hayes, and Fan Tong (Makana Say), a sweet and devoted friend who, incidentally, holds the record for being the biggest baby ever born in Panda Village. Their distinct personalities, which often come into conflict with each other, Po, and the adults in Panda Village, help to round each roly-poly panda character out while also serving as a nice contrast to the incredible powers they’re suddenly blessed with.

Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny follows the adventures of the four energetic panda kids who stumble upon a mystical cave beneath Panda Village and unexpectedly absorb the chi–or energy–of ancient kung fu warriors known as the Four Constellations. This reveal happens really quickly (like, in the first episode) but it’s the kids’ journey to discover the secrets of unlocking their powers as they train under Po that really makes the series worth the watch. Po and the kids will need to use the combined powers of the Four Constellations–Blue Dragon, Black Tortoise, White Tiger and Red Phoenix, based on traditional Chinese astronomy–if they hope to defeat their corrupt teacher, Jindiao, an ancient revived martial arts master obsessed with obtaining powerful dark chi.

Image via DreamWorks Animation Television, Amazon

There’s a lot to love in Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny. Franchise fans will enjoy the nods to previous films and TV shows, like Easter eggs and character cameos, while newcomers will get to meet a rambunctious foursome who are delightfully destructive. The mythology also broadens out in this series and it feels like a new beginning for the franchise. Po, whose origin as an undisciplined layabout tasked with undergoing training to become the Dragon Warrior served as the launching-off point for the whole shebang. Now, it’s Po’s destiny to lead, guide, train, and often defend the panda kids who become the living embodiment of the Four Constellations if they hope to save their village, and the world itself. As Po’s own dearly departed master points out, it’s his turn to become the teacher, whether he wants to or not.

Luckily for fans, DreamWorks Animation’s quality of animation, action, humor, and heart is still among the best in the business. Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny continues the title’s proud panda traditions and sets up a whole new, promising future for the franchise.