^ Changed title to "franchise so far", so now you can pick one of the three. :)
I like KFP2 the most by a hair, with KFP1 as a close second. The first film established everything in such a beautiful way, but I very much like and appreciate how KFP2 expanded on that by taking a dark turn. Really wish KFP3 had continued with it; I think it tried to with Kai, but it ended up not really working with me.
First KFP still feels the the most balanced and well-done overall. Action, comedy, story, characterization, drama-- it was handled the best, IMO. It feels like it had the most genuine message and was the broadest in tone, whereas both sequels feel like they shift to cater to certain audiences more.
Also, people really don't give enough credit to the original film's directors. They really put a lot of thought and care into Kung Fu Panda, a concept that sounded so understandably dumb and ready to become a project for another DreamWorks spoof -- before those two guys decided otherwise.
I agree, though, that the original directors really made Kung Fu Panda what it is (or what it's supposed to be, anyway). Still love Jen, but it's nice to see the original guys' work when I rewatch the first film.
Ya, the original movie was pretty good and I think since it was the first movie, and because It was the start of the whole franchise and its fans, I do believe that it deserves the most credit, although I still love kfp2's serious side. On the other hand Kfp3 did not not really move me as much as the first 2 movies did. Hopefully the next movies won't be letdowns, although I'm not really worried, after how well all three movies did at the box office. :D
I still love the secodn film the most for its dark atmosphere and themes. Shen was a great villain, well written. As was the entire film. It explored new emotions that the first film lacked, and did very well because of it.