Who Am I? Self-Discovery through Food in Kung Fu Panda 3
by Carson Jolly
Food is at the core of every Kung Fu Panda movie, ranging from comedic relief to motivation for Po. The third installment stays on trend as Po, who is now the Dragon Warrior, is hungrier than ever. Shifu, his mentor, recognizes this and tells Po that he still has much more to learn, as the Dragon Warrior needs to be a leader prepared for every scenario. Shifu senses danger looming, and sends Po on a quest to answer the question “Who am I?”
Po finds comfort in food, which leads him to his adopted father’s restaurant to look for answers to Shifu’s question. On his way, he learns that another Panda has beaten his dumpling eating record, which distracts him. Having never seen another Panda before, he investigates and learns that this Panda is his biological father. It's poetic to see that his dad loves food as much as Po does, and it is also what reunites them. After a quick fight reveals a new enemy closing in, Po heads to the newly discovered Panda village with both of his fathers, destined to learn the power of chi to fight off the impending doom. Shifu knows that to learn the power, Po must first discover who he is.
On the journey, we can see that Po’s dads are at odds. They do not trust each other, which hinders Po’s growth. After Po’s adopted dad cooks a few meals for the trio, we can see the two dads become closer. Food serves as a bridge between the two men, which is important for Po’s development and self-discovery.
When Po arrives at the Panda Village, he is greeted with a grand feast. Here, he can meet all his extended family members. Food continues to serve as a bridge for Po’s friends and family. Po and his adopted dad learn to eat like Pandas, messy and chaotic. This symbolizes a unison of cultures through food. Po informs everyone of the looming danger and they offer to help.
Po has trouble training the villagers as they are always focused on food, a call back to when Po went through training in the first film. He realizes that he needs to train them like he was trained – by using food as a motivator. With this method, it doesn’t take much time for the village to become battle-ready. Continuing with the food theme, Po lays out a plan and uses code names like “Dumpling Squadron” to make sure the Pandas pay attention, which can be seen in the above image where many of the Pandas are zoned in on the dumplings. This is an important part of Po’s plan to defeat the enemy. Furthermore, he trains to Panda to use different foods as weapons in the same way that he does. Dumplings are now ammo, noodles are used as whips, and chopsticks and pots are used as swords. Due to the impending danger, this also serves as needed comedic relief.
As a result of the training, Po and the villagers win the fight. Po is finally able to answer the question, “Who am I?” which allows him to master the power of chi. The movie ends with a grand feast for Po, which once again highlights the variety of purposes that food has in the movie.
Per usual, Kung Fu Panda does a fantastic job of taking food out of its normal definition and giving it new meaning. In this case, Po was able to achieve a sense of needed self-discovery, was able to connect with both of his dads and was able to teach a village of peaceful Pandas how to defend their home just by using food.
Kung Fu Panda 3. Melissa Cobb. Dir. Jennifer Nelson. Dir. Alessandro Carloni. Perf. Jack Black, Bryan Cranston. J.K Simmons. James Hong. Netflix, 2016. Streaming.