Why You Should…
A satisfyingly gorgeous, more relaxed entry in the franchise offers dynamic, harmonious results, courtesy of Zimmer.
Why You Shouldn’t…
If you miss Powell’s output, for his freneticism is upsettingly absent in this otherwise easy-faring score.
Release: 22nd January 2016
Composer(s): Hans Zimmer
Recorded By/ At: Air Studios, London
Label: Sony Masterworks
Additional Music By: Lorne Balfe, Paul Mounsey, Germaine Franco
Orchestrated By: Oscar Senen, Joan Martorell
Conducted By: Gavin Greenaway, Eric Whitacre (choir)
Produced By: Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe.
Piano Solos By: Lang Lang
Cellist: Jian Wang
Pipa Played By: Wu Man
Erhu/Zhonghu/Gaohu Played By: Guo Gan, Karen Hua-Qui Han Ottosson.
Guzheng Played By: Cynthia Hsiang
Percussion Solos By: Sheila E and Satnam S. Ramgotra
Arguably now Dreamworks’ favoured mascot in terms of animation and consistent success, the beloved Po would return as the Dragon Warrior in the third instalment of the franchise, KUNG FU PANDA 3. Five years had passed between the second film and the third, but the Dragon Warrior’s popularity endured the gap of time, continuing to use his skills as a respected martial artist to preserve peace among the Valley of Peace. Doubts were cast initially due to lack of an interesting premise, with executive producer Guillermo del Toro reasoning the challenge that the eventual villain would pose, and how it was required to be more intimidating than the previous two to establish a successful narrative progression. That eventual antagonist would present itself in the form of Kai, a muscular bull who seeks to harvest the chi of every living being possible in true megalomaniacal fashion, and how Po must balance his newfound responsibility as the teacher of Kung-Fu following Shifu’s retirement, as well as the seemingly gargantuan task of stopping him. The film digs deeper than before into the mythology, and reunites him with his biological father, coming full circle, to critics’ and audiences’ approval. As expected, Hans Zimmer continues his duties as composer for the franchise, though this time sans John Powell. Reasons behind Powell’s departure are unknown, or perhaps well-guarded, with rumours stating his contractual agreement to the How to Train Your Dragon films serving key to his exit, though a more plausible reason would be due to his commitments for Pan. The difference in the proclivity of the score is evident, with lesser display of outwardly energetic writing, and a stricter emphasis on emotion. Though his absence does plague the score itself, the inclusion of Lorne Balfe helps maintain continuity, as well as continuing to experiment with newer themes. It is interesting to note the progression of the musical aspect of the films; whilst the first instalment was a zany but nonetheless enjoyable blend of action and comedic cues, the second one expanded on this by adding a more cohesive course of run.
As always, the score begins with a meditative rendition of Oogway’s theme in “Oogway’s Legacy”, with virtuoso piano performances courtesy of Lang Lang. The flourish of expressive romantic feel that is added to the piece is a significant highlight, and a soothing feel is evoked with tender strings, wailing cellos and a tranquil flute – what a flying start to the year for the composer indeed. Lang Lang’s bursts of piano performances are short but nonetheless a worthy device to attaining some distinction from the other entries, some considerably rambunctious exploring of the piano yielding highlights. Wild brass, accented plucking and bombastic percussive rhythms take flight in “Hungry For Lunch”, the emulation of Powell’s hyperactive writing a definite plus.
The two major themes for the film take form in the “Father and Son” theme, Balfe’s material serving as a sufficient emotional backbone for the story’s progression towards home for the titular character. The theme itself is split into two statements, which are only fully revealed in the last cue, but can be found as single statements in several cues throughout the score. The full progression fluidly blends a change of meter and warm strings, with flutes and harps rippling in the background as a harmonically pleasing, rather sweeping statement ends the cue. A noteworthy mention is that of “Portrait of Mom”, with soft piano chords accompanying the flute’s dictation of the first thematic statement, with sorrowful, pathos. An atypical feature of the composer is heard, when the rise of flowing crescendos are brought to an abrupt halt and give way to a quieter palette. The second major theme, however, is that for the antagonist, Kai, appearing primarily in “The Arrival of Kai”. The actual identity for the roguish bull is a series of mandolin influenced plucking that will remind many listeners of the Sherlock Holmes scores, suitably Asian in regard given the context of the characters and history surrounding the story for the franchise as a whole. Many listeners have noted an interesting similarity between Kai’s theme and that of a key riff in the song, “I’m So Sorry” by American indie/alternative rock band Imagine Dragons. Indeed, Zimmer and Balfe worked together with frequent co-writer Paul Mounsey to adapt that melodic idea into the score. Whilst the idea isn’t as menacing as that of Tai Lung, or as cunning as Shen’s mischievous woodwinds, it does add an element of mystery and supernatural appeal. Repeated 4-note toying of the theme is given, colourfully laced within the score.
Part of the defining aspect about these scores is its devotion to following a playbook of both respectful ethnic material, as well as successfully interspersing it with truly impressive action material and comedic performances. You’ll find the latter to be true to every regard in a cue such as “The Hall of Heroes”, The Lalo Schiffrin-inspired drum kit driving a swinging, carnival-like bass led version of the Valley of Peace motif. Militaristic snare rhythms accompany a great deal of ethnic output, with consistent, lovely erhu work and adventurous use of the pipa. A great deal of noted soloists was brought to the score, and their contributions do shine powerfully. “The Legend of Kai” intersperses Oogway’s theme with that of Kai’s, admirably conveying their former alliance turned grey. The vocal chanting is in time with the running strings, and both themes are repeatedly juxtaposed against one another for good measure. A soft rendering of the Father and Son Theme is humorously reminiscent of Leia’s theme from the Star Wars scores in its progression, and lovely woodwinds and elegiac strings top the cue off.
The most surprising aspect about the score Kung Fu Panda 3 is its overt downplaying of the stylised writing that Powell would normally contribute. His absence is sorely felt whilst listening to this score, but Zimmer has by this point in his illustrious career, established himself as a definite master in the animated genre, and he guides Balfe well enough to merit a score worthy of repeated listens. Gone are the zany, comedic and action material, with outrageous results, and a new reason emerges to embrace the score- near perfect harmony. The density of colour and emotion that result from this score is outstanding, and the final five cues are nothing short of jaw-dropping in their attire. In a cue like “The Panda Village”, the choir and harp offer a dreamy opening, and the piano work needs praise, with crescendos leading to satisfying results. The tender oboe treatment of Po’s theme signifies homecoming, and you have to admire how well Zimmer writes for the movie he has been offered. The score and film are perfectly tailored for each other, and this itself is a definite indication of success. Trumpets and clarinets echo in “Two Fathers”, a peaceful cue with tremendous emotion of choral and string input.
The final five cues, however, are what truly make this score so ridiculously enjoyable. The energy of movement from the explosive Taiko-led percussion stomps of “The Battle of Legends” are well balanced in both comedic and fast-paced action stanzas, and the erhu and pipas are on fire! A frequent change of meter keeps the listeners entertained, with strong brass work. A great sense of mystique is infused in “The Spirit Realm”, with synth bass layers running underneath a swirling harmonic burst of Po’s theme, segueing into an aura of wonder induced by the ever-reliable choir, running strings and muted trumpets. Near the end of the cue, the Father and Son Theme is treated in motion to the Inner Peace motif, leading to a suitably epic finish. “The Dragon Warrior”, is where that aforementioned density of harmony springs from, and a quiet Inner Peace motif leads to bracketed work from percussion, strong layers of joy within the major key treatment of the Father and Son theme. Outstanding key changes and choir give way to a stunning, goose-bump inducing horn treatment of the Inner Peace motif… that is blindingly majestic. “Passing The Torch” continues with exploring Oogway’s theme in gorgeous choral fashion, whilst the “Father and Son” cue itself finishes the score, its serene atmosphere a relaxing end to the hour long work. Overall, the score for Kung Fu Panda 3 is extremely well handled, and Zimmer’s continued interest in animation scores are a treat for both his fans and casual listeners alike. To contend with, there are three songs in conjunction with the film, the two renditions of “Kung Fu Fighting” serving spiritually creative in its ethnical treatment, and bordering on sickening disgust with the pop rock material, leaving you yearning for Cee-Lo Green’s return to the mic, as well as “Try” by Jay Chou. But the abundance of themes are well balanced with rickety precision, and though fans will hope for John Powell’s return to any future instalments, the sheer amount of emotion that results from the final segments of music is enough to transcend its previous rating by a half star. Zimmer (with Balfe and Mounsey) earns a Synaesthesia Awards Nomination for Animation Score of the Year.
(all music except for where noted written by Hans Zimmer, Lorne Balfe and Paul Mounsey)
1 ) Oogway’s Legacy (2:00)
2) Hungry For Lunch (1:15)
3) The Power Of Chi (4:12)
4) The Legend Of Kai (2:11)
5) A New Father (3:13)
6) The Hall Of Heroes (1:15)
7) The Legend Of Kai (4:01)
8) The Panda Village (3:39)
9) Mei Mei’s Ribbon Dance (2:05)
10) Jaded (3:54)
11) How To Be A Panda (1:53)
12) Portrait of Mom (1:48)
13) Po Belongs (2:52)
14) Kai Is Closer (3:15)
15) Two Fathers (3:11)
16) The Battle Of Legends (3:31)
17) The Spirit Realm (3:18)
18) The Dragon Warrior (2:51)
19) Passing The Torch (4:15)
20) Father And Son (3:00)
21) Kung Fu Fighting (Celebration Time) (2:59) *
– Shanghai Roxi Musical Studio Choirs, Metro Voices London, Carl Douglas, Hans Zimmer, Al Clay.
22) Try (4:00) *
– Patrick Brasca, Jay Chou, Vincent Fang, Celeste Syn, Hans Zimmer, Hans Chen, Josh Lo, Al Clay.
23) Kung Fu Fighting – The Vamps (3:05)*