Kung Fu Panda 2
Peacocks seem innocuous enough creatures. They're not particularly strong or fast, and they don't even fly that well. They seem about as dangerous as a doily sitting on the end table.
But maybe that's part of their nefarious master plan. Maybe, when your back is turned, the common peacock will develop the ability to talk, smelt metal and craft a strategy to take over the known world.
Lord Shen is just such a peacock. Banished from the family palace for being a megalomaniacal pest, Shen decides to show his now-dead parents just how wrong they were about him by taking over China. So far he's managed to recruit an army of wolves and forge a battery of doomsday weapons—cannons the likes of which China has never seen. (Which, frankly, wasn't hard to do, since China, in Lord Shen's era, had never seen a cannon.)
"Compare me to a doily, will you!?" Shen seems to say as he fires cannonballs at his enemies. Soon, some of the best martial artists in China are quaking in their boots, unable to compete with Shen's metallic orbs of death. It appears that kung fu itself may fall to such firepower.
Only one force stands between Shen and the rest of China: Po, the rotund, newly minted Dragon Warrior, and his buds in the Furious Five.
But the panda has problems of his own. Seems that Mr. Ping, the goose who raised Po from the time he was a baby, isn't (Spoiler Warning!) his birth father. (See, we told you it was a spoiler.) That's, naturally, thrown poor, poor Po for a loop. The panda suspects that Shen may know something about what happened to his birth parents. But will Shen divulge? Or will he just let his cannons do all the talking?
In adventure movies, folks are often searching for something—a lost ark, plans for the Death Star, a locked briefcase full of cash. In Kung Fu Panda 2, both Po and Shen are after something too: inner peace.
That inner peace takes on a mystical, quasi-religious significance here (which we'll talk about later), but the desire and need for peace is more than just a panda/peacock one. It's a human one, unfettered by creed or culture or, apparently, species. While on one level, Po needs that peace to do battle with Shen and his fearsome firearms, he also just needs it to get on with life. He needs to let go of what happened in the past and move on.
In this case, the barrier to Po's inner peace is his in-flux parentage. Once he learns he's adopted, Po loses focus and makes some bad decisions. And for a time he even pushes away his adoptive father—who's done nothing but love him and care for him since he was tiny. But he comes around in the end and gives his heart anew to the only father he's ever known.
He also learns about his birth family, by the way—how they loved him but gave him up for his own well-being. And all the while, Mr. Ping shows himself to be a patient and dedicated father—allowing his son to search for answers and risk life and limb (again) for the sake of the greater good.
Shen's familial crisis is a bit different. Feeling rejected by his parents (who, in truth, loved the boy, and apparently died from heartbreak after they were forced to send him away), Shen uses that hurt and bitterness to fuel his drive toward world domination. He could use a little peace—but he thinks war is the only thing that'll ease his aching heart. "Happiness must be taken," he crows, "and I will take mine!" Of course, it's clear here that the peacock's desire to "take" happiness, to try to heal his hurt with hate, is a no-win scenario. As a sage truthfully tells him, "The cup you choose to fill has no bottom."
Themes of courage, self-sacrifice and teamwork also get ample screen time. When asked whether he's ready to die for a cause, Po says, "You bet I am—though I prefer not to."
Kung Fu Panda 2 is set in a fictional Far East, where mysticism is ever present—though not exactly preached.
Inner peace is an important theme throughout many Eastern religions, and Po's master, Shifu, tells the panda that this peace can "harness the flow of the universe." In Taoism, peace and harmony are achieved through balance, represented by the yin-yang symbol. That symbol—half black, half white—represents the forces at play in our lives: night and day, male and female, good and evil, etc. Po, being a black-and-white panda bear, is a walking, fighting allegory of that balance, and we actually see him turn into a spinning yin-yang symbol near the end of the film.
Likewise, the martial arts Po practices have spiritual roots, and Shifu talks about meditation. Prayer bells (not named as such) are taken from a village. A soothsayer makes predictions about the future. One panda seems to receive a psychic twinge from another—even though the two are separated by countless miles.
When Po asks Mr. Ping about his lineage, Mr. Ping begins his story by saying that geese come from eggs. "Don't ask me where the egg comes from!" Ping says, in a bit of a panic. Po mistakes a female goat for a male: He says the beard threw him off.
If you think of Kung Fu Panda 2 as a 90-minute version of an old Road Runner cartoon, you get an idea of the level and kind of violence we're talking about here. The hits, kicks, throws and martial arts moves are unrelenting. Characters careen into gongs, get smacked in the face by signs, bounce off drums, fall from dizzying heights and end up on the receiving end of blazing fireballs—always escaping largely unharmed. Even when Po catches a cannonball with his gut—protected by a large pan—it takes the panda just a wee bit of time to heal up before he's ready for action again.
There are some exceptions to this cartoonish resiliency, however. One character is killed by a cannonball. (We see the cannon fire, then learn of the death later.) Another is apparently crushed by a falling ship's mast. In flashback, we see Po's mother leave the young panda in a radish crate. She runs away, pursued by wolves and others animals behind a big rock where (the film suggests) she's killed.
There's an underlying theme here—as in many action-packed movies—that might makes right, and that violence is a good recourse to bring about a desired result. "My fist hungers for justice!" Po hollers. He gives little thought to sitting down and discussing the matters at hand—though, in fairness, Shen would likely shoot him if he did.
Mantis, one of Po's friends, wishes aloud that he had settled down with a nice female praying mantis, fondly imagining her chewing his head off after courtship. Several small bunnies are imperiled during a wild chase through a city—though they think it's all an amusement park ride. Shen tells some martial artists that he's leaving them with a parting gift: One that spreads body parts everywhere.
Crude or Profane Language
Mild name-calling at worst: "idiot," "fool," "tubby."
Drug and Alcohol Content
A goat gives Po some nasty medicine to drink.
Other Negative Elements
In a sight gag, Po and the Furious Five hide in a Chinese dragon costume, where they "swallow" soldiers through the dragon mouth, beat them up and then "expel" them out the other side. Po, in climbing several flights of stairs, mentions that he threw up somewhere around the third floor. On a dare, Po tries to shove 40 dumplings into his mouth at once. He ends up spraying them at the audience. We're told that he used to eat furniture and that he once downed raw rice and then drank boiling water to cook it.
Frustrated, Po lashes out at a ship's mast. In addition to Shen trying to take over the world, he lies.
Kung Fu Panda 2 won't be remembered as an animated classic. It doesn't have the artistry or resonance that, say, an Up or a WALL-E boast. But like those Pixar films, its moral and message seems more geared toward the adults in the audience than the little kids they likely have in tow.
We're told that just because your story starts out bad—just because some awful things happen to you—doesn't mean your whole life need reflect that. It's what you do, not what others do to you, that makes you who you are.
"You gotta let go of that stuff from the past, because it just doesn't matter," Po tries telling Shen. While that's a great, important message for adults, the peacock doesn't quite get the point, and my guess is that the average 6-year-old won't either.
But isn't it a little refreshing to hear about a cartoon where the moral of the story is the thing that's not necessarily age appropriate—instead of the content that surrounds it? Kung Fu Panda 2 is largely free of sexual imagery, foul language and gross-out toilet humor. And the violence, while extensive, is actually a shade better than Yosemite Sam getting clobbered with an anvil and a whole lot better than Elmer Fudd getting shot in the face.
Which leaves the yin-yang spirituality. And on that one, because it's not shouted from the treetops, many families will be able to use its presence to kick-start a conversation about not only what God thinks about balance in our lives, but also how Eastern spiritual thought doesn't quite line up with His Word.
Po is eminently likable here, just for the record—a more realistic hero for those of us who don't always look the greatest or have the correct words. He's a regular panda trying to do the right thing. Is he willing to die for the good cause in which he believes? Yes—but he'd prefer not to.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Voices of Jack Black as Po; Angelina Jolie as Tigress; Gary Oldman as Lord Shen; Seth Rogen as Mantis; Jackie Chan as Monkey; David Cross as Crane; Lucy Liu as Viper; Dustin Hoffman as Shifu; Michelle Yeoh as The Soothsayer
Jennifer Yuh ( )
May 26, 2011
December 13, 2011