Awww yeah, it’s finally here! Ever since that cliffhanger of an ending from KUNG FU PANDA 2, I have been an eager beaver for this. As you can probably guess, I LOVE these movies. First one was funny, the second one was even better, you bet I was more than looking forward to this. I mean, bringing Bryan Cranston into the fold, this was practically selling itself. Honestly, I was a giddy little Peruvian boy and I couldn’t wait to sit my butt down to watch this. So without further adieu, this is my honest review of KUNG FU PANDA 3.
Po (voiced by Jack Black) the Dragon Warrior panda is back, along with the Furious Five, Tigress (voiced by Angelina Jolie), Mantis (voiced by Seth Rogen), Monkey (voiced by Jackie Chan), Crane (voiced by David Cross), and Viper (voiced by Lucy Liu). In the Spirit World, things have gotten chaotic. Master Ooguay (voiced by Randall Duk Kim) is meditating, minding his own business when an old former friend of his makes an appearance, the nefarious Kai (voiced by J.K. Simmons). He wants Ooguay’s Chi to increase his own power and return to the mortal world. After a brief fight, Kai gets his wish and defeats Ooguay. Meanwhile, Master Shifu (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) announces to his pupils that he is retiring and that Po will begin teaching in his stead. Po naturally doesn’t want the job, as he proves he isn’t very good at it. But upon returning back home to clear his head, a strange panda appears by the name of Li Shan (voiced by Bryan Cranston) who is searching for his long-lost son, Po. The two hit it off immediately, which sparks some jealousy from Po’s adoptive father, Mr. Ping (voiced by James Hong). After spending a bit of time together, Po and the Five are thrust into a fight against Kai’s minions and learn that he can only be beaten by those blessed with the power of Chi, something that Shifu doesn’t know an abundance of, and only the secret village of pandas holds the key to stopping the evil menace, which Li Shan happily offers to aide Po with. So begins a desperate quest for Po to learn the ways of Chi before Kai can cause any more harm.
FUN FACT: Four out of six of the Jolie-Pitt kids (Knox, Pax, Zahara, and Shiloh) had brief appearances as young pandas.
Okay, my summary makes this movie sound a whole lot less fun than it really is, but I fell in love with this one.
First of all, can I just mention how I’ve seen a couple comedies this month, but none of them were funny in the slightest, and it takes going to see a kids movie to get some decent laughs? I’m not kidding, I haven’t laughed this hard to a movie since… alright, THE MARTIAN, which wasn’t that long ago, but… dude, this movie was just too much. Harking back to the original with Po gawking at all the memorabilia of weapons and armor from legendary warriors from history, it’s such a wonderful treat to see both him AND Cranston geeking out over this stuff. Playing with them, having fun, my cheeks were getting sore from how much smiling I was doing.
And never mind just the jokes either, there were some genuinely heart-warming moments too. There’s a scene where Li Shan is talking to Po about his late mother and… dear lord, the animation is phenomenal. His expression breaks your heart, Cranston’s delivery of every line is drenched in sadness, I got choked up. I love movies that do that to me.
Po and Tigress are, as per usual, the front-most protagonists of the movie and they’re just as well-written as ever.
There’s even a bit of showcasing how Tigress has a maternal side to her. Po gives a young panda girl his Tigress action figure. Tigress eventually makes an appearance and the little girl fangirls out to her. Tigress naturally isn’t overly comfortable with the attention, but does eventually warm up to her and becomes protective when Kai attacks the village. It’s actually pretty cute.
Of course, if I hear anyone saying how it’s basically stroking Jolie’s ego as a protective mother, as I’m pretty sure that little panda is voiced by one of her kids, I can’t blame them. But hey, it’s still cute. I don’t care
Kai is a great villain and is the perfect blend of hilarious and intimidating. I love how he’s a character that’s been in the Spirit World for so long and has been forgotten, so once he makes his entrance to the mortal world, he rattles off his nicknames and no one knows who he is. I love how that’s a kind of punch to his ego.
Unfortunately, there is a couple elements about the movie that bring it down.
First of all, it’s never really explained what Chi is. I mean, we learn that the pandas know it and it heals critical wounds. It can be surmised that all warriors have Chi, but only pandas know how to tap into it. My only real complaint is that it’s only NOW that we hear that Chi exists. I don’t recall it ever being mentioned in the previous two movies and it’s being paraded around like it’s the equivalent to Star Wars’ the Force. You’d think something that big and important would have a bit more of an impact on these characters.
Now, we can argue that’s just a nitpick, but… now we get into the unforgivable sin.
After it’s revealed to Po that Li Shan doesn’t know how to use Chi, and that no panda in the village does, Po gets angry and prepares to fight Kai. There is a scene where Li Shan and Ping talk about Po and how his anger toward Li Shan is part of parenting and Ping says something like, “parents sometimes lie to their children for the right reasons.” This lesson feels… unjustified.
I’m no parent, so I can’t say I’ve ever been in a situation where I’ve had to “lie to protect someone,” but being an adopted kid myself, I can say with 100 percent certainty that if my parents spent twenty years not telling me this, I wouldn’t forgive that. Parents are protective of children, I understand. I empathize, I really do. It’s difficult for parents to see their children as anything but the babies that they raised them from. But these kinds of parents who “lie to protect them” from hard realities is not a good thing. Kids are sorely underestimated throughout their childhood for their abilities to cope with the harder stuff of life. They are going to grow up eventually, so let them grow up. Tell them the truth, even if it hurts. Like all relationships, trust is a huge deal and that especially goes for parents and their children. If parents lie about something big to their kids, that’s a piece of trust that’s being destroyed. Maybe it gets repaired in time, maybe it doesn’t. But it’ll be more assured in everyone’s favor if you just tell them the truth right there and then.
Now, I won’t say that there aren’t scenarios that exist out there where lying to our children CAN’T be good, but there needs to be a strategy behind it. If you’re going to lie, understand why. If you can honestly say it’s not because you as a parent are selfish and not ready to see your bubbly and happy children grow up by learning something awful, then you should be making up for the lie by teaching them how to take that kind of reality. How would that happen? I wouldn’t know, I’m not a parent. But if lying is your “Plan A” then there’s something wrong there. A parent’s job isn’t to keep their children young forever, so why are we still telling stories like that?
“Lying for the right reason” wasn’t a lesson that was practiced in this movie. Li Shan lied because he was afraid of losing his son. Dude, Po is a great fighter and is the Dragon Warrior no less, and has saved his home village twice over from some pretty intimidating foes. You don’t quite have the right to try and “protect him” when his job, a job that he accepts whole-heartedly, puts him in harms way. You taking him away from the village leads to his friends losing their lives, being controlled to cause harm, leaving his home village completely defenseless. What a selfish thing to do. If the lies told had more weight in this story, and had better motivations behind them, then I would say it’s a lesson completely open for emotional debate. But the lesson presented isn’t challenging, it’s just a cop out.
Despite that one gripe, I still love this movie a lot. It’s definitely my favorite all this month and what can I say, I’m a sucker for adoption stories. This movie in particular, as well as the franchise as a whole, hold a special place in my heart. It’s funny, it’s action-packed, it’s emotional, it’s a great addition to an already great franchise.
My honest rating: 4/5
Let me know what you guys thought. Did you love the movie just as much as I did, or do you have a differing opinion? Sound off in the comments.