Kung Fu Panda

“There once was a legendary warrior whose legendary kung fu skills were the stuff of legends…”

From his humble noodle kitchen, chubby panda Po dreams of being a kung fu warrior. When he has a chance to see kung fu master Oogway chose the “Dragon Warrior,” Po will do anything to get a good view – including blasting over the wall on a chair strapped to fireworks. When his homemade rocket crashes into the middle of the arena, Po wakes up to find Oogway pointing at him. Oogway claims Po is destined to be the Dragon Warrior, but his successor Shifu is sure it’s a mistake. Shifu takes it upon himself to pummel the panda until he quits, but the return of China’s most feared enemy forces both master and student to reconsider. Can an overweight panda truly be the Dragon Warrior?

I’ll be the first to admit that Dreamwork’s Kung Fu Panda is a shallow movie. The loose storyline is predominately composed of exaggerated drama and unrealistic action sequences that revel in corny kung fu “awesomeness.” The characters have little depth, the story has no lasting morals, and the most iconic part of the animation is Shifu’s twitching ears. The movie is ridiculous and pointless – and that’s exactly why I like it. Read on for my reasoning.

The Legendary

Kung Fu Panda’s biggest plus is its clean bill of health. There is no romance and no immodesty, and the closest thing to language is one slang use of the word “suck.” The only spots are a few brief instances of fairly mild crude humor. The result is a great “harmlessly fun” movie; it’s one of my favorite films to watch when I need something “brainless.” I can have fun without worrying about being bombarded with objectionable content.

Po learns a fairly typical lesson of “be yourself.” While the main theme of the movie isn’t very strong or memorable, there are a few positive subthemes. It’s shown how everyone can succeed if they embrace the challenge, and true greatness doesn’t ultimately come from skill or any “secret powers.” Additionally, the authority of the kung fu masters is well-respected; even the greatest warriors fail when they go against their master’s wishes, while homely Po is able to succeed by dedicating himself to Shifu’s training.

While the animation and character design are solid but not particularly memorable, the music of the film is lively and fun, a unique cross of Western action music and Asian themes. The Chinese scenery and costume is also lovely.

The Wimpy

While it is to be expected with a movie based on kung fu, the violence of the film is worth mentioning. There is almost constant kung fu action, some of which involves vicious moves like smashing opponents through the sides of buildings. Ultimately, no one gets hurt or even draws blood; [spoiler!] the one death comes from a mystical move in which the enemy apparently vanishes in a wave of pure energy. While I do not find this exaggerated violence disturbing, it may be of concern for families with younger children.

The film also has a mystic overtone, which is not surprising given the Chinese setting. The characters practice some rituals reminiscent of Asian religions, and talk is made of harmony, inner peace, and similar concepts. However, no reference is made of gods or real-world religions, except for a brief appearance of a yin-yang symbol. The most religious aspect of the film is the emphasis on destiny; the characters stubbornly insist that it is the Dragon Warrior’s destiny to defeat the feared enemy, and no one else is allowed to even try.

While it is not the main theme of the movie, Po does argue with his father about his future. Po’s father insists that maintaining the noodle business is Po’s destiny, but Po ignores his father’s wishes by leaving the noodle cart behind when he goes to see the ceremony. Ultimately, however, it’s an accident that Po gets roped into kung fu, and his father stays out of the picture until the end, when he also embraces Po’s destiny.

And the winner is…

Where Kung Fu Panda lacks in substance, it makes up for with innocent fun. It’s a film I enjoy watching semi-frequently to keep me entertained while working on projects at my desk, and I appreciate that I can watch a fun movie without cringing over the content. While the mysticism needs to be recognized as false, the overall tone of the film is exaggeratedly playful. If you have a good sense of humor or just need an evening off, you might have fun with this one.

Just remember – Po’s not a big fat panda. He’s the big fat panda.

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