Kung Fu Panda 3

(PG) Voices of Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, Angelina Jolie

Everything that is old is new again.

Imagine, for a moment, the city of Shangri-La from the classic 1933 novel Lost Horizon, by James Hilton. That famous secluded, mountainous location where people live in a mystical, harmonious valley that is depicted as an earthly paradise.

Now, imagine this Himalayan utopia is inhabited by pandas.

Kung Fu Panda 3 is the origins story of the martial arts expert, panda Po (Jack Black). After many years of wondering about his heritage, the young panda is introduced to his panda father, Li (Bryan Cranston). They begin a journey to introduce him to his extended family and to find the answers to his unknown past. These have something to do with the secluded panda paradise, Shangri-La. Meanwhile, in the spirit realm, a battle is raging between the immortals of Kung Fu past. In an evil plan to exact revenge on the entire world, the villainous Kai (J.K. Simmons) steals the “life force” (called “chi”) of all other immortals and travels back to earth to reclaim his position as overlord. Ultimately, the battle lines are drawn between Po and Kai at the panda haven, where the striped community must find its inner power to defeat this immortal enemy.

The animation standards of this popular franchise from the DreamWorks studio continues to go from strength to strength. Your visual senses will definitely be tantalised. Unfortunately, the improvements in the visuals cannot mask weaknesses in the plot. It goes without saying that Kung Fu Panda 3 is about Po, but what made this franchise appealing at the beginning was the ensemble cast which complements the cuddly central character. As each instalment has been released, their storylines have become a predictable formula that is more ‘Po-centric’.  Unfortunately, this element has caused the quality of each sequel to suffer.

Directors Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh seem to have forgotten that their hero benefits from being surrounded by a strong entourage. They do attempt to replace The Furious Five with Po’s cuddly relatives, but his furry family members never quite reach the same level of appeal or support of his martial arts friends.

What is baffling with each chapter of Kung Fu Panda is Po’s lack of confidence in his abilities. Not that there is a desire for him to become pompous and arrogant, but his innocence has become implausible. After defending the local village and even the world from some of the worst villains in China’s history, it becomes hard to stomach that he does not develop more assurance in his abilities. He remains the same insecure bear from the original story line and this diminishes the value of each life lesson that is trying to be taught.

Jack Black (Goosebumps) may be incapable of expanding his range to do anything more than the same portrayal of the kung fu warrior from film to film, but it seems the real failure lies in the writers’ inability to provide more depth of character.

What may cause some parents to hesitate in bringing along their young children to this animated kung fu adventure is the overt presentation of Taoism. The mystical realm continues to be part of this genre and franchise, but this third outing is an overt manifestation of the Eastern belief system. This can be taken in two ways by parents — either to see it as a teaching moment with children, or a time to treat this film with caution. Either way, the spiritual component is not the key reason to miss this third instalment of Po’s adventures; that reason lies squarely in the predictable and poorly executed story.

 What are the bigger questions to consider from this film?

What should I be teaching my children about the different faiths from around the world? Kung Fu Panda 3 is an excellent example of a teaching opportunity with children on spiritual matters. It would be worthwhile knowing what your position is on God and to take the time to learn about Taoism, before seeing this film with your children. Then take the time to talk with your little ones about the realm that exists beyond this life.

  1. What does the Bible say about confidence? (2 Timothy 1:7, Hebrews 13:6)
  2. Does God say about defending yourself and others? (Psalm 144:1, Matthew 5:39-39)

Russell Matthews

Russell loves film and enjoys engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He has worked for City Bible Forum for over 10 years, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse and has a blog called Russelling Reviews. He moderates events for Reel Dialogue which connect the film industry with the general public.