Five years are a long time to wait for the continuation of Po the Panda’s heroic journey. As Kung Fu Panda 3 is punching it at the box office, perhaps a few records may tip. However, some people going to this instalment may well have forgotten some key story points from the previous two movies. They do all tie together very nicely. Po’s rise to Dragon Warrior to self-discovery (realizing who he is) as an individual is very familiar. Much like how baby Moses was found cast adrift and become raised by royalty, the only opposite is that Po is raised in a humble abode by Mr. Ping, a noodle maker and restaurateur.
The virtues instilled upon baby Po as he grew up helped shape part of his personality. While the youth grew to admire the Furious Five, a quintet of Kung Fu, little did he know that the fates decided that he would be the chosen one, to become the Dragon Warrior, the most prestigious master of the martial arts who’s also an amalgam of the best in what any individual — human or animal — can represent.
In this series, all the styles of Kung Fu represented in the animals presented. Oogway is a turtle and Shifu (the chinese name for master) is a red panda. The other masters named include Croc, Ox and Rhino. More animals were added in Kung Fu Master 3. Throughout the series, Tiggress, Monkey, Mantis, Viper, Crane have yet to achieve their final ranking, and as this third film points out, Oogway is set to retire, ready to pass on his title to Po.
Most of the first film simply looks at Po stumbling his way into situations. Very little information about this panda’s past is offered. Kung Fu Panda 2 offers more detail about Po’s origins. Here, he recognizes an image from his past. Not all pandas have excellent memories and while answers are provided, they do not hit home like the reveal of his father getting the feeling his son is alive. By the third film, Po is thrilled to be reunited with his animal-kind. He now has an even bigger family than before. Before, life was centred around his adoptive father and the dojo (with the Furious Five).
The storytellers of this series mapped out Po’s journey very nicely from beginning to end. Although the teases were small, the tiny setup from the second movie is expanded upon in the third. Shen the outcast Peacock proves he’s as evil as everyone thought by attempting genocide of a complete animal species. Although part two felt more like a story about the coming changes of scientific advancement, creating modern arms with a James Bond style villain, thankfully DreamWorks went back to basics in Kung Fu Panda 3.
If there’s more stories to come in the theatrical front, the filmmakers are cautiously optimistic about it. Po is a fully realized Dragon Warrior. Any new threats may now mirror what ancient China faced. The series does acknowledge that this world is an anthropomorphic one.
Perhaps there will be an invasion from the North mirroring Earth history from this ancient world. To the North are the Mongols and West, an expanding Arab empire. While this franchise does not borrow on established Chinese history, just where can it go next? In a world rich in mythic lore, the sky’s the limit and the producers are best to remain rooted there to keep this franchise fresh.