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Kung Fu Panda 3 by Hans Zimmer (Review)

posted Jan 13, 2016, 4:10 PM by Kaya Savas

Kung Fu Panda has always been one of Dreamworks’ strongest franchises storytelling-wise. A big part of that has been Hans Zimmer and John Powell’s music. The first film was truly wonderful; it carried an energy and uniqueness while carving out the emotional arcs superbly. The second score took it to a whole new level, with a second half that was truly riveting. The second film was surprisingly heavy and emotional with what I would call one of the most interesting antagonists of recent memory with Gary Oldman’s Shen. I mean his arc was just as interesting and relatable as Po’s, and the image of him closing his eyes to embrace death's arms right before dying in a fiery blaze is quite an image for an animated film. So, now we’re at #3 in the franchise, this time Powell has departed to leave Hans on his own.

Kung Fu Panda 3 takes place after the cliffhanger reveal of the second film that Po’s real family is still alive and out there. He reunites with his family and a whole village of Pandas, but now must train them to take on the villainous Kai. All in all, the score is rooted much more in Chinese sounds and aesthetics. That’s what primarily will grab you at first. You can feel a lot of culture within the music, it feels very organic. Hans brought in concert pianist Lang Lang to add an emotional undercurrent to make old themes feel a little more intimate. His performance does add a new dimension to the tried and true themes, but nothing groundbreaking. The first half of the score suffers from being a little too cheery and saccharine. It almost felt like we breached into Saturday morning cartoon territory, but of course there’s gonna be tons of cutesy scenes with the newfound Panda village members and children.

The villain Kai gets his own theme, which allows the score to have something new besides the overly reused themes from 1 & 2, and that allows the score to feel like it has evolved a bit. While I love all the themes in Kung Fu Panda, I do feel this third go around felt like it relied a bit to heavily on the old themes instead of branching into something new. Shen’s theme in #2 was beautifully woven through, and acted as a true storytelling technique within the music when juxtaposed with Po’s theme and the main overarching theme. Here, while Kai’s theme is great, it’s used more as an announcement of his presence. The second half fares much better as we get into some wonderfully structured action tracks that are infused with an emotional resonance. However, it again never reaches the level that Kung Fu Panda 2 reached. The way the music flowed and the way the story beats landed in #2’s score were much more powerful. The score here wraps up nicely with some thematic reprisals and some songs. As an overall package there are some great standout moments.

Is John Powell’s absence notable? Yes. Does the score suffer a bit without him when compared to the previous two? It sure does. That doesn’t make Kung Fu Panda 3 unenjoyable though. The score flourishes with brightness in the beginning, embracing more traditional Chinese styles and sounds than ever before. It shifts into action mode to give us some thrills and emotional swells in the second half as it leads to a warm conclusion. The score here never reaches the gravitas, superb structure and emotional resonance of Kung Fu Panda 2, but it’s a great re-shuffling of those familiar themes with some added flair.