Why the Kung Fu Panda Trilogy is Perfect

Issue 22: December 6, 2023

If you have ever spent a decent amount of time around me you will be well aware of the fact that I find the Kung Fu Panda movies to be perfect and the best movie trilogy of all time. Evil Dead, The Matrix, and The Lord of the Rings are all incredible trilogies that I still think fall short of DreamWork’s masterpieces. Jack Black gives a stellar voice performance as usual, and the supporting cast, especially the villains, always chew scenes up in the best way.

The start of the trilogy, Kung Fu Panda (2008) focuses on Po and his journey of self-discovery to become the dragon warrior. The biggest standout of the movie is the literal yin and yang between Po and Tai Lung, the main villain of the movie. Tai Lung feels that he deserves to be the dragon warrior because of his skill and background, while Po doesn’t feel he deserves his new title, yet Po’s humbleness and attitude end up pushing him to victory over Tai Lung (spoilers for a 15-year-old movie). Po’s journey of self-understanding is incredibly moving and worth a watch, the life lesson of accepting and overcoming stereotypes and struggles in spite of your circumstances is a much more adult film lesson than most animated movies choose to focus on.

The first movie might be a masterpiece, but Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011) is actually perfect. While some jokes don’t always land the pacing and storytelling are just perfect. It tells another story of self-discovery for Po yet with a spin of tragedy and finding inner peace in times of struggle. The biggest hit for me in the movie is the acceptance of difficult situations and struggles. Most animated films avoid forms of conflict in order to maintain a family-friendly pace but Kung Fu Panda 2 does an excellent job of allowing for bleak, hopeless situations for Po to overcome. This hero’s journey evolves beyond self-discovery and into self-improvement. Po knows who he is and what he’s capable of, yet he struggles with his abilities. A common theme among students and workers alike, in spite of your abilities your biggest shortcomings can stem from your own lack of inner peace. Gary Oldman’s performance as the villain Lord Shen is just perfect, he never loses a scene and manages to be one of the best DreamWorks villains of all time.

Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016) is the weakest entry with the strongest story. Po’s story comes full circle by finally discovering his family, wrapping up his self-discovery arc by allowing him to defend his family as an individual and wrapping up his capabilities by having him stand alone. The villain is again incredible, this time voiced by J.K. Simmons. So why is the trilogy perfect? The answer is simple, no other movie trilogy depicts a more accurate, and even human growth of character development. We often feel we don’t belong in our situations due to some stereotype of possible lack of self-confidence, yet through growth and peace, we find our inner stability and meaning. We learn to stand on our own and overcome our adversity, shining as our own Dragon Warrior. Not many animated films can pull off this journey, yet DreamWorks managed to nail it with this trilogy.