Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)

It was beautiful and moderately entertaining, but Kung Fu Panda 3 wasn’t great. I think the scenery and stylization was the strongest aspect of the project.

The premise is that an evil former friend of the old turtle character is stealing the life force of all China’s kung fu masters, both living and dead. Po the panda, as the famous Dragon Warrior, is the only one who can stop him. However, first he must figure out the answer to the surprisingly difficult question, Who am I?



Thoughts on Kung Fu Panda 3

I think the biggest problem I had with the movie is that Kai, the antagonist, didn’t seem scary.

Partly that was because his dialog made him seem silly, and minor characters didn’t seem to know or fear him. Partly it was because even after the threat emerged, the plot dragged through many scenes of Po getting to know his goofy extended family and Po’s goose dad being jealous. Partly it was because I didn’t find the panda’s defenses very plausible—the battle in the village was all so neat and tidy. In a cutesy, roly-poly kind of way.

The snow leopard of the first movie was scary because we saw how he was locked up, we saw his unbelievable escape, and we knew that he was gradually approaching—there was a ticking clock. According to my dim memory of the second movie, the evil peacock was scary because he had killed in the past and was preparing armies and weapons and stuff, like Saruman in The Two Towers. Again a ticking clock, right? And each of these antagonists was unquestionably a physical, deadly threat.

I think the real problem with KFP3 is that the threat—and for that matter, the successful defense—is otherworldly and magical, thus much harder to understand and appreciate. We weren’t even given a physical analogue of Kai’s increasing power: his collection of jade pendant warriors didn’t noticeably grow. How many is “all” of them? There are no redshirts; the antagonist doesn’t kill anyone or hurt anything, except a temple and a statue; everything “bad” he does is apparently reversible.

Magic is so arbitrary… Hey look, it’s possible to escape the afterlife! Hey look, I can make other people fight for me! Hey look, we know how to heal with magic! Oh, wait, no we don’t. Oh, wait, yes we do, we just weren’t trying. Hey look, it’s not possible to send someone from the afterlife back to the afterlife, but it is possible to take someone there! Wait, am I dead? Nope, since like we saw, it’s possible to escape the afterlife! Even if you’re not evil! Sometimes life force makes flowers bloom, sometimes it heals people, sometimes it overwhelms your enemy and releases the souls he turned into kung fu zombies… and sometimes it makes flowers bloom. Riiiight.

I disliked the competitive eating motif, but I liked the themes of identity, belonging, and self-discovery. I love Angelina Jolie’s Tigress character, and the relationship Po has with her (longstanding admiration on one side and grudging but genuine respect on the other).

I think I was expecting to hear less about family and more about the hesitant transition from student to teacher, but the best line was Po’s incredulous assertion: “I can’t even teach Tigress, and she already knows kung fu!”

Wikipedia says the movie was co-produced with a Chinese company, and that there are two versions so that the characters’ voices and lips are synchronized in both English and Chinese. One wonders whether (enough of) the comedy really comes through—humor doesn’t translate well.

Supposedly there may be three more movies in the franchise. I’m not sure whether I’m able to be happy about that.