Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Archetypal Lesson from Kung Fu Panda 3

What’s more adorable than a Panda? Few creatures in nature are. Pandas have color markings highlighting eyes that seem to look upon the world with innocence. They seem just a bit melancholy, too, in spite of a zen-like existence.

What is equally adorable is a human toddler. Eager to explore, eager to learn, adapt and please. Panda plus toddler equals Po, adopted son of Mr. Ling, a goose; biological son of long-lost Li in Kung Fu Panda 3; and Dragon Warrior in training with Shifu. Ling, Li, and Shifu are but three of the father figures with which Po must wrestle to find himself and his strength. His is an archetypal literary struggle.

Po is an insecure creature. Abandoned as a baby, he finds his way to the Valley of Peace where his appetite and size set him apart. He arrives as a toddler--exuberant, awkward, and oversized when compared to others living in the Valley.

By the third movie, Po has acquired some skills, but he lacks the discipline of his peers. Nevertheless, Shifu retires to meditate in order to access the Secret of Chi. He names Po as the teacher, astounding everyone. Tigress, for example, possesses discipline and skills superior to Po’s, but she, like Crane, Viper, Mantis, and Monkey, accept Shifu’s wisdom and yield to Po’s leadership. He doesn’t perform well. He flounders and retreats to Mr. Ling’s noodle shop.

Kansas City Zoo
Photo Courtesy of Al Griffin
A disturbance in the market place draws both Po and Ling there, and that is where Po meets his biological father, Li. Po sees that it is his nature to eat and enjoy life. He agrees to accompany his father to the secret Panda home where he can learn to accept who he is and embrace Panda skills. His father also pretends to know the Secret of Chi.

Po’s departure leaves a vacuum in the Valley of Peace at a time when an old nemesis returns. Kai has stolen the chi of many spirit warriors, including that of Grand Master Oogway in the spirit realm. He has one more chi to claim in order to reign supreme. That is Po’s chi.

Kai crushes the opposition in the Valley of Peace; he wins the chi of Crane, Viper, Mantis, and Monkey. Only Tigress escapes to warn Po.

Now Po’s conflicts with father figures explode. Not only must he overcome his own fears, he must choose between his duty to the greater good and pleas from his adopted and biological fathers to save himself. He must weigh the wisdom of Shifu who believed in Po’s potential and present. He must summon courage against a fierce foe and unknowns. In brief, he must evaluate all the expectations others have of him and synthesize them into a whole known as Po.

The end is, of course, a triumph for Po. He finds, embraces, and lives up to his promise. We expect nothing less. This is an animated story for children, after all. They will struggle with adult expectations, too. They will feel pulled to be what their parents wish for them, and they will be attracted to what their peers want them to be and do. They must go to war with the spirit of themselves. In the best outcomes, the best within will emerge to lead.

Reading Challenge:

Read about the father (figure)-son conflict in literature. My Writing and Editing Coach has written about literary conflict before. Armed with these insights, “read” Kung Fu Panda 3.

Writing Challenge:


Write an essay comparing Kung Fu Panda 3 to the recent reboot of Star Wars, Episode 7.

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.
She also writes for Our Eyes Upon Missouri.