Jacob and I went on a little date today to see Kung Fu Panda 2. All of our family were big fans of the first movie, me especially, which surprised me. I was initially impressed with the way the movie did not “speak down” to kids or give in to gross-out jokes or crass language. It didn’t need to; it was hilarious and mature without any of the typical, sell-out, kid movie devices. But what was really top drawer about the first movie was the message: that heroes don’t always come in the packages we expect and that our bodies do not necessarily define our abilities. As you can imagine, this speaks to me.
So, we went into Kung Fu Panda 2 with high expectations. This is often the kiss of death for a movie for me – rarely does anything live up to (or down to) to my imaginary expectations. I am well aware of the general (presumably unintentional) rule of movie trilogies: the first one is great, leaving us wanting more, the second is either disappointing or just plain terrible, leaving us hoping for better, and the third one either somewhat or completely redeems the second. So far, Kung Fu Panda has broken that formula, because this second one has, in my opinion, surpassed the first.
Kung Fu Panda 2 had all of the great qualities of the first: true humor, zero vulgarity, and a solid message. There will be no spoilers here. The plot is simple: bad guy wants to rule the world; the furious five must stop him, and our hero, Po, must overcome his personal issues to succeed. One of the things I really love about this movie is the general element of team work. While there is some focus on Po’s personal struggle, the major fight sequences all rely heavily on team work. I love this. There are also some great lines from the soothsayer, who was the nanny of Shen, the bad guy peacock, when he was growing up. She is the one who has predicted that Shen would be defeated by a “hero of black and white.” This information drove Shen to seek out and kill every Panda in China. As Shen has grown, he has continued to check with the soothsayer to find out if he has been able to change his destiny. Once, as he asks her to read his future and she declares it unchanged, he exclaims, “One living Panda” [meaning Po] “does not make you right!” The soothsayer responds, “No. Being right makes me right.” Also, later on, when the soothsayer is begging Shen to turn away from his path of world domination, which is fueled by pain and vengeance toward the parents who rejected him, she says, “The cup you choose to fill has no bottom.”
But, like the first movie, the really wonderful thing about Kung Fu Panda 2 is the message. This may come as a surprise to you, but I am slobberingly sentimental, and this movie made me cry like a baby. My seven-year-old son who was sitting next to me admitted to tearing up, which I believe is the response most normal people will have to this movie. But, all joking aside, I think the message of this second installment of the Kung Fu Panda movies will touch anyone who understands the pain of past experiences which threaten to destroy our current and future happiness – for themselves or for others – which is to say, all of us. The thesis can be summed up in yet another quote from the soothsayer: “Your story may not have such a happy beginning, but look how it turned out.” The expanded version is this: your past does not define you. It is what you decide to be that does. And, even in the revelation of these deep truths, there is humor. As the hero and the bad guy face each other at the very end of the movie, Po tells Shen, “Scars heal.” Shen hisses in response, “Wounds heal.” and Po responds, “Well, scars do what? I guess, well, scars fade, right?”
All in all, it was a great movie, which made me laugh out loud more than a few times and also touched me deeply. I may be overly affected by sentimental movies, but even so, I think it would also touch “regular” folk. And, I can, without reservation, recommend the movie as safe and appropriate for your children to see.