By George Navarro
Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson is best known for her work in Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar. She is the first woman to solely direct a major Hollywood studio animated film. She is the director and storyboard artist for DreamWorks Animation for the entire Kung Fu Panda series. She was awarded an Annie Award for best storyboarding in an animated feature production and was the second woman nominated for an Academy award for the best-animated feature.
Kung Fu Panda 3 continues the epic tale of Po the panda who comes to learn his destiny of becoming a kung fu master and joining the very ranks he admires greatly. The final movie of the series comes full circle as he is transitions from the dragon master (a destined warrior) to a sensei. As in the previous two movies this is not an easy goal to accomplish and becomes the premise for the plot in the movie. Internal and external adversities must be conquered in order to achieve his goals and become the hero his superiors know he is destined for. Again the overlapping theme of self-belief persists throughout the series. Throughout his self-doubt he is consistently challenged through his love and support of and from his friends and family. In this movie more than ever he relies on the help from anyone willing to lend a hand, never is a battle fought alone regardless if internal or external. In this movie Po meets his most powerful foe yet. A long lost friend turned of master Oogway has learned to absorb the chi of others in order to become more powerful and is a threat to the peace in the world.
The movie started when Po’s maternal father Li shows up as a traveling stranger in search of his long lost son because of a vision he claims given to him by the universe. Mr. Ping, who raised Po since he was a child was immediately jealous and questioned the newly arrived stranger. During this time Khai kills master Oogway (one of the most powerful beings in the movie) and took his essence (his chi). Chi by definition is the energy that flows through all living beings on earth. This is a spiritual concept often practiced by monks but is easily adopted in other cultures around the world. It is essentially the nirvana of ancient Chinese culture, where one is in tune with his mind, body, soul and most importantly at peace with himself. Kai was an old war buddy of master Oogway, Khai saved his life during the war. In their travels they discovered the hidden village of pandas. In this village all the pandas had the ability to heal the dying Oogway through their practices of chi. Khai saw an opportunity for his own benefit and wanted the power all for himself. Oogway send him into the spirit world in order to save the pandas that had helped heal him back to health. When Po learns the only way to defeat Khai is to develop his Chi he finds out his birth father can teach him the ways of the panda village. So they set out to an epic journey on foot back to the secret panda village. Beautiful scenery of Chinas versatile landscape is on full display on the adventure.
Cherry blossoms on green covered hilltops, blistering blizzards and scorching deserts had to be treaded in order to reach their destination. The vibrant colors used to capture the radical differences in climate China experiences in its different regions. Of course during these travels He was followed by Mr.Ping who snuck into Po’s bag in order to ensure his sons safety. When they finally arrive at the village the entrance covered by fog is quickly overtaken by grass covered mountain tops as the sun breaks through the clouds a shines its light on Po’s newly discovered Utopia. Enticed by the fact everyone looks like him, and begins to practice their customs (rolling instead of walking) and during a big feast he meets Mei Mei, ribbon dancer who fancies Po. During this time Mantis and Crane of the furious five are told to spy on Khai and both have their chi taken when confronting Khai. Enjoying his first day of panda training (which ironically required very little training) Po is overcome by the peace brought by the laid back, humble and festive culture of the pandas. Even Mr. Ping begins to come around when falling in love with the children pandas love for his cooking. These feelings of peace within the characters are captured through the soft vibrant colors while khai scenes are darker more desert places. Colors even conflict with each other with Khais’ appearance. In particular scenes where Khai is confronted you can see the difference in colors around each character and even the sky.
Through the angles and cuts between characters during dialogue you can see the dark, almost teal color sky overtaking the blue skies normally seen above the good characters. We also learn during his time at the panda village that his mother had hidden Po during unexplained times of violence but it was made understood that his mother had passed. When discovering or Khais’ arrival master Shifu ordered the furious five to evacuate the village of its citizens. Upon his arrival a battle between the furious 3, master Shifu and Khai. During this fight he steals the chi of the remaining members of the furious five except for Tigress. Khai desecrates the dojo when he tears down master Oogway statue and destroy the entire palace with it. When he finally takes master Shifu chi, Tigress runs to warn Po who continues his celebrations in the panda village (he’s loving life). At a moment of peace he is interrupted by tigress as she warns him of what has happen in the Jade Palace and the inevitable fortune of the panda village. Po beings to grow impatient as the entire time he has yet to learn the ways of the pandas’ chi practices. When he finally admits that no panda knows the teachings of chi anymore (he did it to save Po) Po decided at that point to disown his maternal father. Po begins to prepare for the arrival of Khai with his homemade fighting dummy, during this training montage the movie cuts between his progress and the progress of khai tracking down Po. Desperate to save Po the fathers have a heart to heart and conclude that Po needs the support of them both (I found this interesting since same sex parenting is a relatively recent topic of discussion in American culture).
Tigress spares with Po as they discuss his potential strategy and again conclude that Po needs to learn chi. That is when the entire village decides to let Po teach them kung fu in order to defend the village and defeat Khai. That’s when he realizes what Shifu words of teaching a student to be the best version of themselves was the key to teaching. Another training montage ensues of Po, both of his fathers and tigress training the pandas in the specific skills that each of them had (from eating, hacky sack, and hug). The plan is for the village to distract the jade warriors that Khai possesses and summons from Po as he defeats Khai with his ultimate move, the Wu shi finger hold. When Khai finally arrives he summons his jade warriors and as they charge at Po he leads them deeper into the village where random traps and ambushes are setup. While entire village is fighting the Jade army Po continues to run through the village in an attempt to sneak up on Khai while he is distracted. Finally in position Po panda rolls into a giant snowball that crashes into Khai as Po unsuccessfully attempts his wu shi finger hold. Khai reveals that his is not a mortal and can’t be defeated by the move, and begins to dominate Po in battle. Po desperately tells the villagers to run as khai slowly approaches the crowd. In desperation Poe sneaks behind Khai grabbing him and performing the wu shi finger hold on himself to sacrifice himself in order to take khai into the spirit world. While in the spirit world with Khai Po is overcome with excitement as the battle ensues in the spirit world. The colors again begin to clash as good and evil does in the story when Khai is present in the spirit world. As Khai begins to drain Pos’ chi doom seems inevitable. Back in the mortal realm the villagers gathers around the bed of flowers left behind by Pos’ sacrifice and begin to channel their love for Po in a concentrated effort to help him (their chi). This empowers Po with an incredible amount of power as becomes enlightened. He comes to a realization or understanding of who he truly is, and that is the dragon warrior. The spirit of a dragon takes over him as he begins to defeat khai. He channels all of his chi into Khai essentially overloading Khai into submission and destroys him. The flowers the village gathered around begin to float as every hero captured by khai is released except Po. He’s seen floating in the spirit world next to Oogway (they are very happy to see each other). It turns out that Oogway had sent a universal message for Po’s father to find him.
He saw the future and the past within Po (yin and yang; a symbol present through floating earth within the spiritual world) he is given master Oogways’ staff and is promoted as his successor. With the staff he successfully attempts to go back into the mortal realm. When he returns to the mortal world he is transformed back to his normal self. After the defeat of Khai he spirit worlds vibrant welcoming shades of golds, reds and greens return. When master Shifu sees master Oogway staff he places his palm over his face in frustration and sighs before asking Po to teach him the way of chi (the student now becomes the teacher). All the kung fu masters, civilians of the jade palace and the panda village all celebrating the victory of Po and saving the people of evil. After the display of martial arts the entire village had learned, they transition into their practices of chi where the viewer is shown that everyone has reached a spiritual plateau and the viewer is again shown that adversity can be defeated through perseverance and a strong support system. I very much enjoyed the fact that all the characters in the movie were animals that are all native to China. It helped find the characters relatable to the setting and the story. The consistent within the main characters is that they represent good in the battle of good versus evil. Although they experience change through internal and external challenges it is this perseverance of these characters that reassure the viewers of their true nature. No matter the circumstance or difficulty of trail, these characters fought for the greater good, peace and most importantly love.