Many of us strive to be something more than what we are now. We look up to heroes and try to emulate them, whether that’s in the realm of sports, an academic field or just within our own homes and families. The Kung Fu Panda movies have been about just that, following Po (voiced by Jack Black) as he lived his dream to become a kung fu master and join the Furious Five. The movies have been about wish fulfillment as we watched a lowly, misfit panda go on to achieve great things and become a hero in his own right, all without losing core parts of his goofy, fun-loving personality.
Now Po and the rest of the gang are back in Kung Fu Panda 3. This time the story gets personal for our favorite panda as one aspect of the story that has been strung through the previous films finally gets addressed: The fate of Po’s family and the rest of panda-kind. As soon as a long-lost family member resurfaces so does a new threat that threatens all of China as it carves its way through all the kung fu masters. So it falls to Po and his village of peaceful pandas to defend against what seems to be an unstoppable evil.
The first poster immediately tells the audience that yes, this new movie will feature the same sense of humor as the previous installments. Po is suspended between two pillars eating dumplings while a group of horrified pandas look up into a buffalo shot.
The second poster continues the theme of Po being among the village of pandas, but this time he’s more artfully balancing on a pillar while a group of cubs are climbing on him. This time the gathered crowd looks more amazed than terrified.
That’s actually it in what seems to be an abridged poster campaign. There’s nothing about the story here other than that it involves Po being in a village of his own kind. But no hints as to conflict or even the more emotional elements of the story are hinted at on either version. Instead they just want to tell the audience the movie is coming out and assume that will be enough to draw people in.
The first trailer was dedicated to setting up the return of the characters. So it stars with a training sequence involving Po and the rest of the animals. But then we see his “greatest challenge” awaits. So he has an encounter with an older panda who says he lost his son years ago and they have a conversation that none of the onlookers can believe is actually happening because yeah, the relationship is obvious.
It’s an alright first entry that certainly does the job of evoking what it is audiences like about the franchise while also slightly introducing at least one element of the story in this new entry.
The second trailer starts out with Po asking Shifu a question, which leads to Po going on a journey of self-discovery. We see the “I’m looking for my son” scene again, but this time with a different ending (so the first trailer was lying). His dad takes him to a panda village in the mountains. But a new threat is emerging that threatens Po’s newly-found family so it falls on him to teach them all how to fight. Po and the villain have a final confrontation, which goes exactly as you expect.
This one is a bit better at showing the full story of the movie and so works pretty well. Again, if you find Dreamworks’ brand of humor amusing this will appeal to you. If you have low tolerance to puns, though, this may not be your cup of tea.
The third trailer starts off with Po being told it’s time for him to take the next step on his journey, a step that’s necessary for him to fulfill his destiny. We get the shots of him meeting his dad and finding the panda village before we meet the bad guy again. He teaches the pandas to defend themselves, despite the problems in doing so before the final conflict.
It’s not bad but it doesn’t really cover any new ground from the previous spots. That’s alright though since the idea here is just to sell people something they’re familiar with, not to get overly clever with the marketing.
Online and Social
The content on the front page of the movie’s official website is displayed to try and get people to click on various things but it’s also available easily in the four content sections that are included in the menu at the top of the page.
“Watch” has all the trailers as well as clips, interviews with the cast and more, including a walk-through of the movie-based Minecraft skin and mini-games.
“Play” has more information about that Minecraft World and how to get the game and play it. There are casual games that you can play on the site (some are from the previous movies) and downloadable art projects to get too. Finally, the section has downloadable media including GIFs and posters.
Find out all about the characters from the entire series in “Characters.” Bios for each animal has a brief description of who they are, what their fighting style is and a gallery of images featuring them.
Finally “News” pulls in updates from the movie’s Facebook page – the only off-site profile for the movie itself – as well as Dreamworks Animation’s Twitter, Instagram and YouTube profiles.
Advertising and Social
The first TV spot for the movie debuted just a few days before the release of Star Wars and had a little bit of fun with that, having Po’s father say “I am your father” while breathing heavily from climbing the stairs. It’s a nice little play on what was at the time dominating the media landscape.
DreamworksTV launched a tie-in web-series hosted by Mei Mei, the panda voiced by Kate Hudson, that was helping to promote the movie to the young audience on that YouTube channel.
The film got promotional support from website development platform Wix, who ran co-branded ads starring characters from the movie in commercials, including one that will air during the Super Bowl and which is part of a bigger promotional push featuring Po and the rest of the favorites from the movie.
Media and Publicity
Unfortunately one of the first real bits of news about the movie was when it was announced Kate Hudson would be replacing Rebel Wilson as the voice of a character. That raised a number of questions since swapping out voice talent just months from production is pretty unusual when it comes to animated movies.
J.K. Simmons talked to EW shortly before release about being a fan of the first two movies, which is what prompted him to accept this role, and how he wanted to make the villain he voices scary without turning off the kids in the audience.
Black, Hudson and other stars also made the rounds of the morning and late night talk shows to promote the movie and engage in various stunts.
It’s a nice little campaign for a movie that has a lot of goodwill built up before it’s even released. The Kung Fu Panda franchise is seen by many as being at least one of Dreamworks’ best, if not the best outright. That explains why the posters only needed to raise audience awareness and not go too heavy into plot territory. The trailers hit the story a bit more squarely but even there the focus is on not just the humor but also creating a sense of familiarity in the audience that yes, this is more of what you already like.
The campaign promises just that: a return to familiar ground, albeit with a few new twists. I’m guessing the tone and feel of the film won’t be drastically dissimilar from that of the first movie. It’s not like this is the Godfather series. But that’s exactly what the audience wants. If the marketing can convince people that this is a safe bet for late January then people who haven’t had a decent all-ages movie to go to in a while should turn out in droves.