Kung Fu Panda 3: Review
Americanized Buddhism with Anthropomorphic Animals
I really, really liked the new Kung Fu Panda. It expanded the mythology of Po’s world while grounding the story in everything that came before. I definitely liked this one more than the second Kung Fu Panda and to some extent more than the first.
As with always, the marketing of the film plays it off as a crude and poorly made Jack Black-led comedy flick. And once again, the film is so much more than it advertises itself as. This is not unlike The LEGO Movie or The Secret Life of Walter Mitty which featured great stories, but horrible trailers. Maybe this is intentional, (as it attracts kids to the films without boring them by deeper story arcs and characters) but I think this also turns away teenagers and older viewers.
So what exactly did I like about this film? Firstly, I love how self aware the film is. It always knows which rules to bend about physics or characters, and which things to keep consistent. I also really love how it never forgets about what came before in its own franchise. This is best exemplified in Po’s Wuxi Finger Hold, which I think lesser franchises would have ignored or written out of their stories because it makes their hero so powerful. Instead of ignoring it, the film embraces the idea and lets the Wuxi move become important to the plot and essential to the resolution.
Secondly, I continue to love the design and art style of the Kung Fu Panda. Every two minutes there’s a part of the film you just wish was your desktop wallpaper. The film looks amazing, and the composition of the film is more than worth checking out in its own right.
Thirdly, the characters seem to react in ways that make sense and never seem out-of-step with who they were established to be at the outset.
Fourthly – I really like the introduction of the “spirit realm” to Po’s world. I say this with some reservations however. The fact is that the film franchise is getting deeper and deeper into Eastern Religion – I would argue that it may even be getting to the point where it is dangerous to let kids see the film. The story has always toyed with Kung Fu in its name, but the film has always been Americanized and dumbed down enough to keep it from being a problem. This film felt like it was going full on Eastern-theology discussing Chi, the Yin-Yang duality, and full on magic stemming from this power.
The thing is, I really liked the way it was incorporated into the story. The mythology and background ideas were undoubtedly Eastern and just plain wrong in so many ways, but so was the weird Buddhist/Pantheism combo seen in Star Wars. There are a lot of parallels to be drawn between that series and Kung Fu Panda – although admittedly the actual content of Kung Fu Panda is much more immersed than Star Wars. Still I think (for a Christian) that with a proper distinction between authentic theology and creative license, Kung Fu Panda‘s Eastern shenanigans need not be any more harmful than the pagan mythology of Greece or Rome.
Ultimately however, some children may not be equipped to handle ontological distinctions and the difference between good and bad Ideas in the realm of theology. Thus, I would caution parents who don’t want to overexpose kids to foreign, alien, or outright contradictory concepts (to their Faith) to be careful of this film.
Or not. A lot of this stuff might just pass over some people’s heads.
In the end, the villain was villainous, the hero was heroic, and they looked pretty epic duking it out.