An Adoptive Dad Reviews ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’

Kung Fu Panda 3

Movie: Kung Fu Panda 3 (PG, 95 minutes)
Moviegoers: Daddy (46), Papa (48), Jon (6)
Individual Reviews: Daddy ★★★★, Papa ★★★1/2, Jon ★★★★★
Family Favorites: Star Wars (episodes IV-VII), Big Hero 6, Ghostbusters
Daddy & Papa’s Favorites: The Matrix, O Brother Where Art Thou, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Plot Snapshot: Po is living large as the hero of his village, content to “fight monsters and get high-fives from bunnies.” Two challenges soon arise to rock Po’s world: the supernatural villain Kai, who is stealing the chi of China’s kung fu masters; and the appearance of Li Shan, his long-lost biological father.

Po and Li Shan travel to a hidden village where Po meets scores of other pandas, reconnecting with his inner dumpling-eating, hill-rolling, oversleeping self. But Kai is on the hunt for our hero, so Po must train his new panda posse into fierce warriors in order to battle the otherworldly foe.

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[The remainder of this review contains plot spoilers.]

As an adoptive parent, I’ve always been interested in how movies like the Kung Fu Panda series handle the topic of adoption. I was particularly curious about Kung Fu Panda 3, as it introduces Po’s birthfather into the story. This is something more and more adoptive families can relate to, as open adoption is increasingly the norm.

I went into the film with some concerns about how they would treat the dynamic between Mr. Ping (the goose who raised Po) and his biological father. I was half-expecting a bait-and-switch, perhaps revealing Li Shan was not in fact Po’s father; or maybe Po having to choose between one family or the other.

Yet the moviemakers did a good job of resolving the family-related conflicts — which were almost entirely between the two parents, not Po.

Adoptive dad Mr. Ping seemed to struggle more with this new family dynamic — his protectiveness, mistrust, and competitiveness on full display. While I appreciated the honesty with which they portrayed these understandable (and familiar) emotions, I was glad they didn’t roost there, which might have caused some adopted kids or their parents to feel uncomfortable. However, I thought that within the confines of a 90-minute kids’ movie, they evolved the characters quite nicely.

Kung Fu Panda 3

It was especially heartwarming to see Po discover all the ways he’s like the other pandas, as well as Mr. Ping watching the village’s cubs, recognizing similarities to his own young panda. Many transracial adoptive parents strive to help their children connect with a differing heritage or ethnicity; this film sheds some light on what such a journey might entail.

Only two things gave me concern. Though in order to protect Po, it was still disturbing to see the flashback of his mother abandoning him as an infant. And at some point, both of Po’s fathers lie to him: Li Shan, when he lures Po to his village with the promise of teaching him to find his chi; and in an offering of solidarity, Mr. Ping confesses to Li Shan that he “lied to Po [about his adoption] for twenty years. He still thinks he came from an egg.” A little cavalier for my tastes, but as we’ve always been honest with our son, it shouldn’t pose any problems.

What ended up (pleasantly) surprising me was how the movie transformed the adoptive vs. biological plot from one of conflict to one of co-parenting. It assuaged my fears of planting doubt in my son’s mind about who might be his “real” parents, and instead turned it into a declaration of how having two dads is just plain awesome.

Kung Fu Panda 3

Ultimately, Mr. Ping and Li Shan put aside their differences and came together in support of their son. As each character was shown gearing up for the final battle, father goose and father panda were shown working in tandem, exclaiming my favorite line from the movie, “TWO DADS DEFENSE!”

While Mr. Ping and Li Shan weren’t a same-sex couple, I don’t think that made a difference to my son. All he saw was a kick-ass hero with two kick-ass dads.

It’s my fantasy that some friend or classmate of Jon’s will see the film and recognize my son and his family — perhaps opening a few young (and old) minds in the process.

On all kinds of levels, Po’s journey in Kung Fu Panda 3 is about self-discovery. Near the end of the film, he sums it all up as only a poignant panda can:

“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.”

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Check out the Moms Movie Minute and Kung Fu Panda 3 page on Fandango for more reviews, articles, and exclusive interviews.

[Disclaimer: As part of the Fandango Family Digital Network, I have accepted free promotional codes and other compensation from Fandango in exchange for this post. However, all opinions are my own.]

Have you visited and liked the Designer Daddy Facebook page? SKADOOSH! Hop to it, my little dumplings!

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