Kung Fu Panda 3

Inciting Event: Although not terrible by any means, I find the structure in this third entry in the series to be the weakest of the lot. Primarily, this is because many of the main structural moments take place apart from the protagonist Po. We see this clearly in the muddy First Act, in which we have three contenders for Inciting Event.

The first contender, and the one I’m most inclined to call the Inciting Event is spirit warrior Kai’s return to Earth. This is where the main conflict enters Po’s realm. It doesn’t, however, impact or even touch Po’s own life in any way as yet, which makes his section of the story relatively plot-less.

Po’s turning point coincides with the arrival of his birth father Li. However, since Li’s arrival has, at this point, only an incidental relation to the main conflict (i.e., “the universe”—which turns out to be Master Oogway—sent him to find Po), it is a poor Inciting Event all on its own.

Finally, the third of our contenders is Po’s first encounter the main conflict, when Kai’s chi-enslaved jade zombies attack the valley. However, the timing of this event is so late in the First Act that it becomes more properly the Key Event.

First Plot Point: After learning the truth of Kai’s intentions to steal all the Kung Fu masters’ chi, Po goes with his father to the secret panda village, where Li promises he will teach Po how to master chi so he can defeat Kai. This is a clear departure from the story Normal World to its new adventure world in the Second Act.

First Pinch Point: Crane and Mantis find Kai and engage him, against Master Shifu’s orders. Kai takes their chi and turns them into “jombies.”

The purpose of pinch points is to emphasize the antagonistic force’s power to stop the protagonist. As such, pinch points don’t always need to be scenes that include the protagonist. However, when they don’t feature the protagonist, then the protagonist’s own scene needs to include some kind of obvious turning point. There isn’t a corresponding pinch in Po’s plot-line, much less one that is directly influenced by Kai’s scene, which means Po’s segment of the story feels relatively unattached to the main conflict.

Midpoint: Kai attacks the Jade Palace and takes the chi of Shifu, Monkey, and Viper. Tigress escapes to warn Po that Kai is coming for him. When Po presses Li to teach him about chi, Li admits he lied and has no idea how to control chi. Po comes up with a plan to turn the pandas into an army by teaching them how to take advantage of their own strengths.

Second Pinch Point: Kai arrives at the panda village. His very presence is, of course, a demonstration of his power and his ability to thwart Po. Note that because this is a movie—and a short movie at that, running only 95 minutes—the second half is very much compressed. From this part of the story onward, everything feels climactic.

Third Plot Point: After learning that the wushi fingerhold—Po’s “best move”—won’t work on Kai, because he’s immortal, Po decides to use the fingerhold on himself and use his own death to take Kai with him back to the spirit world. This is a nice Third Plot Point that features literal death, via Po’s sacrifice.

Climax: In the spirit world, Po figures out chi and uses it to battle Kai.

Climactic Moment: Po defeats Kai.

Resolution: At Oogway’s urging, Po returns to the mortal realm and steps into his new role of teacher, by instructing Shifu and the others in the mastery of chi.

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