Tuesday, May 31, 2011

We Saw Kung Fu Panda 2

Thanks for all the comments about the movie in response to this post; I felt I was able to prepare the girls pretty well for what we were going to see.  As expected, on the surface, it was pretty heavy on the adoptive-family-is-all-you-need theme, but there were some bright spots for me, partly in the educative effect of what folks are doing wrong (and not really getting away with in this movie)!  I'm only going to talk about some things I haven't heard (or read) other people say already. For instance, I really appreciated Raina's perspective in her review here, so won't replow that ground or anything covered in the excellent and varied comments to my previous post.

And let me say here
if you read any further!

First of all, I thought there was a real object lesson in the "adoption talk" between Po and his adoptive dad.  Turns out that Po knew all along he wasn't Mr. Ping's biological son (duh!), but didn't say anything because his dad didn't say anything.  Po says something like, "Why didn't you tell me?"  And Mr. Ping said something like, "Why didn't you ask?!"  Like I'm always saying, if adoptive parents figure their kids aren't thinking about adoption because they aren't broaching the subject, then their kids who are indeed thinking about adoption will read that silence as the answer -- adoption isn't something their parents are comfortable talking about.

Second, when Po does finally ask, and Mr. Ping tries to tell him his (Po's) story, he does what so many adoptive parents do -- he starts at the moment he and Po met, as if there was no Po before that moment.  Sure, he didn't know much, just that Po got into that box of radishes somehow, but simple biology allows for the "you grew in your birth mother's tummy until it was time for you to be born" start.  And, another important point illustrated here, Po wasn't satisfied with the moment-we-met story, saying, "I need to know the beginning."

Third, I was prepared for the ultimate "the past doesn't matter" theme when the seer who is taking care of Po after he is injured tells him that he shouldn't dwell on his past, that the unhappiness of his beginnings doesn't matter, what matters is what he chooses to become.  A little dismissive, yes?  BUT, I was struck by the fact that BEFORE she gives this message, she insists that Po has to KNOW about his past.  She tells him not to fight the memories of his biological parents, that he can only move on after he knows.  Maybe not so dismissive after all. . . .

Fourth, I thought the film was REALLY "birthmom-positive" during the "abandoned-in-a-box" scene, thank goodness.  She was so obviously loving in her good-bye to Po, with a lingering hug as she finally tore herself away from him to lead the murderous wolves away from him.  Maybe it was Po left alone like my kids, maybe it was the damn box, but that was the one scene that made me teary-eyed.

Fifth, I am sorry that the movie makers missed an opportunity to present a different adoption paradigm instead of the easy "past doesn't matter" meme. Maybe that will come up in Kung Fu Panda 3, who knows. Tell me if I imagined this, but was the hammer used by Po's panda dad in the flashback the same hammer used by Master Rhino? If so, I can see in a KFP3 a real connection between Po's bio dad and kung fu as an explanation for where Po's interest and talent comes from, a biological explanation that makes clear that "where you come from" might matter after all.

Sixth, my impression from the reviews and comments I had read was that Po was sort of rejecting his biological family at the end, saying significantly to Mr. Ping, "I know who I am now.  I am your son."  But one thing made me see it differently -- he kept the panda toy he found in the wreckage of his home village, the one he saw himself carrying in his flashbacks.  As he carries two boxes of radishes he brought home for his dad, he reaches into one and brings out the toy, giving it pride of place on top of the radishes.  Maybe it was only meant to signify acceptance of his "beginnings" as the baby panda in the radish box, but it seemed to me that he was bringing part of his former life into his childhood home.

Seventh, I thought the Asian imagery -- the countryside, the towns, Shen's palace that reminded me a bit of the Wild Goose Pagoda, the shadow puppets at the beginning -- was wonderful, and much more pronounced than the last movie.  Maybe because Kung Fu Panda 2 is the first Hollywood animated feature directed by an Asian American woman.

So I'd say it's a mixed bag on the adoption front.  Yes, adoptive parents who want to downplay the importance of birth parents get a message that allows them to do that.  But there's a price to pay to get that message -- the movie's frank talk of birth parents and Po's questions about his will, as Maya put it, "make adopted kids ask questions." The girls enjoyed the movie while watching it -- Zoe said it was much better than the first movie. But afterwards, she said it made her sad because it made her think about her birth parents and she wanted to spend time alone in her room afterwards. And, it really opened the floodgates for Maya, who doesn't often want to talk about her birth parents.  She had lots of questions, and needed a lengthy "cry and cuddle," which Zoe later joined us in. I expect we'll see more processing in the days to come, but they both say they want to see the movie again!


chicagomama said...


Nice to see your review of the movie. When I left my review, I was addressing the adoption storyline first and foremost. I do agree that the animation had a lot more detail and beauty than the first and we loved the opening and ending credits because of that.

I didn't catch the Dad's weapon and the Rhino's weapon - I guess we will have to watch that part again when we see it. Like your girls, mine wants to see the movie again and we have had some very good discussions about the movie (both adoption and non adoption related topics).

It is also nice to hear your take on how things were presented adoption wise. While I would like to have a more ambivalent take on the positives/negatives of how adoption was presented, it still was overall disappointing to me. But then - most adoption storylines are. Ultimately, I just wish Po had had more agency through the story. Here is the Dragon Warrior, and yet he was still in the "child" position in all of his dealings with his birth story (via his adoptive father, the seer, the peacock, etc). It never felt like Po had true adult agency in how the story played out.

It is that infantalization that I think I most objected to. It is not so much that the characters weren't perfect (I think there is a lot to learn/share when you see things done "wrong") - it was more that he just wasn't really treated like an adult (except when it served the story to have him be adult-like). Even taking the toy back from his old village felt that way to me. And the toy still existing completely took me out of the story because pul-lease. As if it would have survived the ravages of fire and the elements. At least, I couldn't believe that.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughtful review, it has given me stuff to think about.

Joanne said...

I saw the movie with my 8 yr old son for a friends bday party, so Mia was not with me. There were 2 other China-adopted kids at the movie and they both thought it was very "scarey". I thought from the moment Po's father tried to spit out the word "adopted"; which he had a very tough time saying...it all went down hill. I was glad to read your review though and I do agree that the scenes of the panda village, etc was done beautifully~

kimberly said...

My daughters (almost 8 and 5 years old) LOVED the movie. On the way home in the car I asked them if they knew what they had in common with Po. They answered no. I told them that he was left to be found just like they were. My oldest was so excited, right after I said that she said she wanted to get the movie as soon as it came out on video. This was big for her as last summer when I was telling her her story for the thousandth time she stopped me and said, “Wait a minute, are you telling me that my mother just left me all by myself and did not want me? How could she not want me, I was so cute? I had a ton of hair.” Seeing Po’s mom and how he was left but still loved really meant something to her. Just now I asked her to tell her dad about the movie and what her favorite part was. Her favorite part of the movie is when the mother and father left Po and fought off the bad guys.

My girls also asked about Po’s real parents. I told them that they were all his real parents. My youngest was in foster care so she had three sets of real parents and my oldest had two. My oldest said she really felt like the nannies was her family so she really three sets of real parents and I agreed.

My oldest gets scared easy at movies and she was not scared. She saw the movie as a second grade party with her friends.

Alison said...

I agree with the commenter that mentioned Po's adoptive father's trouble with the word adoptive. To me it seemed like he thought it was something secretive or a bad word, that he was having a hard time spitting out. I think that sends a terrible message to kids who were adopted and to other kids in the audience who are soaking that in.

Dalton Wordlaw said...

Excellent review! I did enjoy KFP 2, even though I had to watch it with the kids, haha. It was more enjoyable, Jack Black was as funny as ever. And the 3D rendering was enough to keep the kids glued to their seats. Overall, it's a very entertaining movie. Highly recommended for the whole family.