Strained Analogies Between Recently Released Films and Current Events: Kung Fu Panda 3 and Primary Endorsements

by Matt McKenna

Panda_a_0The worst part about seeing a kids’ movie in theatres–even a decent one like Kung Fu Panda 3–is sitting through the trailers that play before the feature. For every trailer decent enough to respectably fill its two minutes of running time, there are slew of others starring flatulent anthropomorphic animals who defecate or urinate at inappropriate times, ostensibly because it’s funny (e.g. see the trailers for current and upcoming films such as The Road Chip, The Secret Life of Pets, and The Angry Birds Movie). You can’t blame the kids in the theatre for laughing at these jokes because they may not be aware that they’ll be subjected to the same fart joke in nearly every film they see between now and the time they grow out of children’s movies. And if they ever become parents, they’ll have to suffer these jokes all over again. Fortunately, Kung Fu Panda 3 is not only fart joke free but also educates our nation’s children on the presidential primary election process.

Kung Fu Panda 3 follows the adventures of Po, a tubby panda bear and master of kung fu. In this the third installment of the series, Po meets his biological father for the first time causing much consternation for his adoptive father who, in case you’re wondering, is a goose. While competing for who can eat the most dumplings, Po and his panda father recognize each other partially on the basis their both being overweight but also because they realize they’re the only two pandas in town. While Po and his panda dad chat and catch up, the town is attacked by Kai, an angry yak whose goal is to defeat all the other kung fu masters in China so he can collect their “chi,” which enables him to–I don’t know–become really powerful or something.

The key plot device in Kung Fu Panda 3 is that once Kai defeats an opponent and steals their chi, he can then summon and control a jade statue drone of that defeated opponent therefore transforming his enemies into allies. Doesn’t Kai’s process of using the defeated masters’ chi sound exactly like how victorious Republican and Democrat presidential candidates consolidate their own power during and after the primary election? After a candidate drops out of the race, they are expected to throw their endorsement (their chi) behind a candidate and eventually the party’s general election nominee. While the candidates don’t physically change into zombies à la Kung Fu Panda’s martial arts masters, they are nonetheless expected to do whatever they can to ensure their party’s nominee wins the general election. In fact, the GOP establishment’s worry that Donald Trump might break this rule inspired the Republican National Committee to ask candidates to sign a loyalty pledge that states, “I affirm that if I do not win the 2016 Republican nomination for President of the United States I will endorse the 2016 Republican presidential nominee regardless of who it is.” This GOP loyalty pledge basically describes Kung Fu Panda 3’s plot device only that the movie might state the pledge something like this: “I affirm that if I am defeated by a kung fu master, I will morph into a jade statue and do battle for that kung fu master regardless of who it is.”

While Kai clearly represents a finalist in the kung fu primary, he doesn’t represent one of the establishment’s preferred candidates like Bush or Clinton. Instead, Kai represents a surprise candidate–a Trump, a Cruz, or a Sanders–whose success annoys the establishment favorites who have been patiently waiting for their turn at the Presidency. More specifically, Kai’s ascension to power plays out a lot like Trump’s in that they both defeated the pre-primary front runner early on: even before the first debate, Trump rendered Jeb Bush irrelevant just as in the first scene of Kung Fu Panda 3, Kai defeats Master Oogway, an old turtle who comes across as a mix of a tranquilized Obi-wan Kenobi crossed with a geriatric Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Granted, Bush hasn’t dropped out of the race nor has he endorsed Trump, but if by some bizarre turn of events Trump does win the primary, Bush would have no choice but to offer his chi to Trump or violate the loyalty pledge.

If Kung Fu Panda 3 is any indicator, however, the establishment candidates like Clinton and Bush need not worry. This is a kids’ movie, after all, and at the end of kids’ movies, the world must be restored to its previous harmonious order. And just like Kai never really posed a threat to the established kung fu masters, neither does Trump, Cruz, or Sanders threaten the establishment favorites in this year’s election.