Friday, May 27, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2 [2011]

MPAA (PG) CNS/USCCB () Roger Ebert (3 ½ stars) Fr Dennis (3 ½ stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert review -

Kung Fu Panda 2 [2015] (directed by Jennifer Yuh, cowritten by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger) is a well-written, well-animated (3D once again IMHO utterly unnecessary), well-voiced sequel to the first Kung Fu Panda movie written, directed, voiced and animated by the same team.

There’s a lovely gentle humor running through these young kid, family-oriented movies.  My favorite character remains Panda Po’s (voice by Jack Black) more or less obviously adoptive father, the noodle shop running Goose named Mr Ping (voice by James Hong).  That almost certainly Mr Ping could not possibly have been Panda Po’s actual father was a running gag through the first movie (even though it was obvious that Mr Ping cared deeply for his much larger, far furrier and certainly far larger/fatter son, and that Po never knew anyone else other than Mr Ping and presumably Mr Ping’s long deceased wife, as his parents).   Note simply that there are a lot of Chinese children that have been adopted over the years by American couples and that most of the time, they don't look much at all like each other (kinda like Po and Mr Ping) even if they certainly love one another (again much like the two in the Kung Fu Panda stories).  Panda Po’s origins and who Mr Ping came to take care of him is developed/explained nicely in this, the sequel.

Then there are the lovely paradoxes so much part of traditional East Asian spirituality (and which are actually part and parcel of _most_ spiritual/religious traditions even Christianity).  These include that the fabled “Dragon Warrior” master “destined to save Kung Fu” would turn out to be an overweight panda named Po, when so many _seemingly_ worthier candidates could be found, frustrating Shifu the Red Panda master (voice by Dustin Hoffman) who had to train Po, as well as some of Po's initial rivals including the Tigress (voice by Angelina Jolie), Mantis (voice by Seth Rogan), Viper (voice by Lucy Liu) and Crane (voice by David Cross) This made-up much of the story in the first Kung Fu Panda movie.

In this movie, a rich, spoiled, young peacock, Lord Shen (voice by Gary Altman) who had everything, but wanted more, and turned a substance (gunpowder) which previously brought joy (fireworks) into a weapon (a dragon headed cannon) is warned by a soothsayer water-buffalo (voice by Michelle Yeoh) that he will be defeated by a “great warrior” who is “black and white’ (Panda Po) who had obviously lost his parents somehow and had been raised by a kind, well meaning, goose (Mr Ping). 

There is much for young children and their families to learn as this story plays out, and if the story is expressed in an East Asian narrative form, (1) the lessons are easily translatable into Christian language as well “the last shall be first and the first shall be last" (Mt 20:16) and (2) the story is a reminder of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, Nostra Aetate that “the Catholic Church does not reject anything that is true or holy in these other [South and East Asian] religions” (NA#2). 

This statement of the Second Vatican Council may not be altogether appreciated by Christians and Catholics of European or Latin American ancestry, but is of enormous importance to South and East Asian Christians and Catholics from nations like Korea, Vietnam (with large Christian and Catholic populations), China, Japan and India (with smaller but often very ancient Christian and Catholic populations) and even the Philippines (overwhelmingly Catholic but with a culture and sensibility that is still profoundly East Asian) where the need to integrate one's faith with one's cultural origins is a matter of day-to-day life and necessary for maintaining an internal peace/equillibrium. 

A point is also made in this sequel that no matter how difficult or sad one’s previous life may have been one has the choice of responding positively toward the future.  This too carries a Christian equivalent where Jesus told his disciples "do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gahenna" (Mt 10:28).  Again, no matter what our past may have been, we always have a choice of how to respond regarding the future.  We can choose to live in hurt, but we can choose to let go, or even and especially to forgive. 

Hence this story which is so beautifully expressed with an East Asian idiom has a message that is easily translatable into Catholic/Christian language as well and so I do hope that well meaning Catholic/Christian parents would not fear taking their kids to the film, because it is lovely (and probably because you're taking your kids to Tae Kwon Do or Karate classes anyway ;-). 

Finally, it remains interesting to me how so many spiritualities (in this case an Eastern one) talk of both searching for inner peace and yet also of external conflict and how often the interelationship between these two realities (the internal and the external) show up both in our ancient stories/Scriptures like the Book of Revelation or in the Islamic concept of Jihad and in more modern stories and films, perhaps most notably in the Jedi spirituality of the monks in Star Wars.  I’ve mentioned a number of times as I’ve reviewed a number of recent, more young-adult oriented “Apocalyptic” films like Suckerpunch or Priest.  Don't get me wrong, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a kids film while the other two are _certainly not_ (oriented to older teens and young adults).  Still the theme of external conflict being present even in the midst of the search for inner peace is present in all three.  And this theme may give adults something (a paradox, even a koan perhaps) to contemplate as they watch this film with their smiling, 3D glasses-wearing kids.  Happy viewing to all ;-)

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