Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Kung Fu Panda 3 Adoption Movie Review
Po has learned over his first two films that he is a Panda, that he was adopted by his father, a goose named Mr. Ping, and that he is the long-foretold Dragon Warrior. In Kung Fu Panda 3, Po learns what it means to be the Dragon Warrior – and he comes face-to-face with his birth father, Li Shan. Po must continue to explore all the aspects of his own identity to find peace for himself and for the world. And he needs to do it well, because his birth father and adoptive father are at odds with each other – and because the villainous Kai has returned from the spirit world intent on taking revenge against all Kung Fu masters.
PLEASE NOTE: SPOILERS ARE AHEAD THE REST OF THE WAY
The Adoption Connection
Po is a panda, and is the adopted son of Mr. Ping. Until recently, he did not know that there were other pandas alive. Now, though, he meets his birth father, and is brought to a secret location where many pandas continue to live in peace. Po has the opportunity to explore what it means to be a panda; he learns how they live, how they eat, and how they move. His birth father, Li Shen, is intent on teaching Po how to be a panda. He tells Po how Po came to be separated from him, and often refers to Po as “Lotus,” which was Po’s name at birth.
Po’s adoptive father Mr. Ping is worried that Li Shen will reduce Mr. Ping’s role in Po’s life. When Li Shen takes Po to the panda village, Mr. Ping secretly accompanies them, not wanting to lose Po. Mr. Ping’s defensiveness and anxiety are palpable upon first meeting Li Shen, and Li Shen appears somewhat insensitive towards Mr. Ping’s feelings. It’s a bumpy ride, but they eventually do find a way to a healthy shared parental role.
Overall, Kung Fu Panda 3 strikes me as a positive adoption story. By the end of the film (and of course, this is a spoiler), Mr. Ping and Li Shen have learned to co-function as fathers to Po. My wife noted that it was really only Mr. Ping and Li Shen that had any difficulty with this; Po naturally took to calling them, collectively, “Dads,” but it took the grown-ups a while longer to reach this peace.
There are some hard spots along the way that could be difficult for some viewers – kids and adults – when Mr. Ping and Li Shen both are less than ideal in their approach to the situation, but even those struggles seem to be realistic. Overall, though, Po, Mr. Ping, and Li Shen reach an understanding that they are all family. This reminded me of Lori Holden’s framework of “Both/And” rather than “Either/Or” – Po easily realized that Mr. Ping and Li Shen were both his dads; it took Mr. Ping, particularly a while to realize that it was not an “either/or” situation. Mr. Ping was able to explain his fears to Li Shen in a wonderfully vulnerable moment, “I was worried you’d steal Po from me. That was crazy. Having you in Po’s life doesn’t mean less for me. It means more for Po.” In fact, Po captures it wonderfully, “Who am I? I’ve been asking the same question. Am I the son of a panda? The son of a goose? A student? A teacher? Turns out, I’m all of them.” Well said, and way more insightful than most films.
Mr. Ping initially warms to the panda culture when he sees elements of Po in the young pandas in the village (they like noodles, just like Po did.) Mr. Ping and Li Shen’s first act of co-parenting comes when they both encourage Po.
It’s obvious that Mr. Ping and Li Shen both love Po, even as they’re trying to figure out their role with regard to his other father.
It’s touching to see Po return to the panda village. He is amazed to see people who look like him, “You’re like me but a baby. You’re like me but old. You’re like me but fatter.” It’s a heartwarming scene.
At one point, Mr. Ping and Li Shen refer to themselves as Po’s “Double Dad Defense.”
A villain has captured, in some sense, nearly every hero in the world.
In some sense, Po is forced to fight against his friends. While adults will understand the nuanced difference, younger kids might feel that Po has been betrayed
Li Shen lies to Po. When Po confronts him, Li Shen says that he lied in order to protect Po, “I lost you before; I won’t lose you again.” Po’s response is painful, “You just did.”
In one scene, Po and Li Shen talk to each other about looking for their lost relatives. They are in front of a crowd of onlookers who are befuddled that Po and Li Shen don’t realize their relationship. It’s played for humor, but it could be confusing to young children who have been adopted into a family that looks physically different from them. They might need help understanding that, while physical traits are passed on from one’s genetic family, not everyone who shares physical traits with a child is a member of that child’s genetic family.
Mr. Ping initially does not want Po to call Li Shen “Dad.”
Po is told of the traumatic story by which he was separated from his parents.
The sense of competition between dads could be uncomfortable for adopted people, adoptive parents, and birth parents.
While most of the pandas are very warm towards Po, some younger pandas are insensitive, asking “What kind of panda doesn’t know” how pandas move. Po responds, “I’m new at being a panda.”
In talking to Li Shen about how they’ve each lied to Po, Mr. Ping says “Sometimes, we do wrong
things for right reasons.” While it is not good for parents to lie to their children about adoption, it is realistic to acknowledge that even the lies are told “for right reasons.” They’re misguided and perhaps harmful, but not malicious. It’s a valid nuanced distinction.
Po's dads do lie to him. Li Shen did lie to Po about a very important thing, and it seems that Po will blame Li Shen for taking away Po’s friends – and to some extent, Po’s purpose in life. In an attempt to comfort Li Shen, Mr. Ping tells him, “I lied to Po for twenty years. He still thinks he came from an egg.” Mr. Ping also refers to Li Shen as “a monster” once.
There are some very challenging scenes that will be inappropriate for some viewers, depending on their age, maturity, and understanding of adoption issues. These scenes are not generally “bad” – just “hard,” and maybe too hard for some younger viewers. With parental discretion, this can be a very strong film.
This isn’t going to be an easy film for viewers touched by adoption – there are some very difficult and painful scenes and concepts, but ultimately, Po and his two fathers reach a very healthy spot. The difficulty they experience likely mirrors the struggle that real-life families have to go through on the road to a healthy integration of birth and adoptive families. This is a good movie to watch, but adoptive parents should prepare their kids ahead of time for the adoption issues that will be in the movie, and should intentionally discuss the film with their kids afterwards. Parents whose kids are too young to discuss the adoption issues might want to wait a while on this film, but if kids are able to talk through their feelings about the film, this could be a very powerful and positive conversation starter. Recommended for ages 9 and up. Kids 8 and under might not be ready to do the processing work that will be necessary to benefit from this film, and that work is important here because of how heavy the hard scenes are.
Questions for Discussion
What makes you, you?
Has someone ever lied to you, doing “the wrong thing for the right reason?” Did their good intentions make it less painful? If it didn’t make it less painful, does it make it easier to forgive?
Do you think Po has to choose either Mr. Ping or Li Shen to be his dad, or can he say that they both are his dads?
A question that Po must answer throughout the series is, “Who are you?” Now that Kung Fu Panda 3 is completed – who do you say Po is?