Kung Fu Panda 3

Posted on January 28, 2016 at 5:24 pm

Copyright Dreamworks Animation 2016
Copyright Dreamworks Animation 2016

The only panda more “aw-worthy” than Po (Jack Black), is the National Zoo’s Tian Tian rolling in the snow.  In this third outing, the roly poly martial arts hero is still kind, humble, brave, and wiser than he knows. And, once again, the film’s gorgeous visuals lend a touch of epic grandeur to the story that provides a nice balance, as the Furious Five do for Po.

Two important characters join the story. The first is a more powerful foe than any we have seen before. His name is Kai and he has the deep growl of J.K. Simmons and the deep animosity of someone who has been waiting centuries in the Spirit Realm for revenge. He has supernatural powers and it is genuinely shocking to see him quickly overcome a character we thought was the most powerful of all dragon warriors. Kai has the ability to steal the “chi” (life force) of his opponents. And he is determined to defeat the Furious Five, their teacher, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), and Po as well.

The second new character is Li (warmly voiced by Bryan Cranston), Po’s long-lost biological father. Po loves his adoptive father Mr. Ping (James Hong), proprietor of a small noodle restaurant. But he is very different from everyone around him. That is one reason for his compassion and ability to appreciate the difference in others. He longs to learn more about where he comes from.

As Kai comes closer, Li brings Po to the Panda community, where he is delighted to find out how quickly he feels at home. Mr. Ping has come along, and does his best to hide his jealousy, but he is worried about losing Po.

Fathers are the theme of the film, as Po in a sense loses his spiritual fathers Shifu (who tells Po he must now take over as teacher) and Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) and has to figure out what his new relationship with Li will be and how that will affect Mr. Ping. Po also loses the support of some of the characters he has always depended on when their chi is stolen by Kai. At the same time he is gaining new friends and a community he has always somehow missed, he realizes how much of a family his old friends have been for him.

Kai is coming for the pandas, and so Po must train them to protect themselves. The ultimate battle, though, will be left to the dragon warrior, and even though Po is now a teacher, he still has to discover some new techniques to fight a foe who holds the chi of so many valiant warriors. “There is always something more to learn, even for a master.”

Jennifer Yuh, whose last film in this series is the highest-grossing ever by a woman director, returns with co-director Alessandro Carloni, who worked as as artist on both the previous films. Yuh also began as an artist and the visuals are imaginative and gorgeous, inspired by Chinese paintings and landscapes. Po’s early encounters with his new extended family are endearing. While some families, especially adoptive families, may be uncomfortable with Po’s eagerness to rejoin a group he can barely remember, the issues of abandonment and strain between the biological and adoptive fathers are handled with sensitivity.

Like the martial arts masters themselves, the film achieves a seemingly effortless balance, with a light, graceful touch. It that encompasses silly comedy (mostly delightfully so, though making fun of a character with bad teeth is questionable). And it has some sophisticated, self-aware humor (beginning with a joke on the studio logo and continuing with commentary on “the power of a dramatic entrance”), along with warm-hearted lessons learned, and skillfully-orchestrated action.

Parents should know that this film includes action-style violence, some characters (temporarily) transformed and turned into enemy operatives, themes of adoption and identity with jealousy between adoptive and biological parents, and some potty humor.

Family discussion: How does Po feel differently about PIng and Li? Why did Shifu want Po to teach the others? What is the wrong thing for the right reasons?

If you like this, try: the first two “Kung Fu Panda” movies

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3D Animation Family Issues Fantasy Series/Sequel Talking animals

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