Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Rated PG. Our ratings: V- 1; L-2 ; S/N -3. Running time: 1 hour 31 min.

…for truly in this city there were gathered together
against thy holy servant Jesus, whom thou didst
Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever
thy hand and thy plan had predestined to take place.
From a prayer of the Apostles, Acts 4:27-28

Po gets a kick from his mentor Shifu.

2008 DreamWorks

This DreamWorks film boasts wonderful animation and a delightful cast, but an all too familiar story that blends characters from Nacho Libre, Star Wars, and numerous other slacker-becomes-hero sto ries. Kids will no doubt love it, and adults will find some laughs and an uplifting moral, the kind that we find in all those Hollywood films involving Asian characters.

The film is set in ancient China’s The Valley of Peace populated by humanoid creatures. Po is a panda (voiced by Jack Black) working in his father’s (voiced by James Hong) noodle shop. There is never an explanation given about the father being a stork (or a duck?). Dad wants his son to take over the shop one day, whereas Po dreams of being a kung-fu master, a very unlikely dream given his ponderous size and love of food. Then, when he ventures up the almost endless flight of stairs to the temple where the Dragon Warrior is to be chosen to defend the valley against the evil snow leopard Tai Lung (voice of Ian McShane), Po’s entire life is upended.

Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), the smallest yet greatest of the kung-fu master teachers, taught Tai Lung in the art of martial combat, but the pupil turned evil and was sent away to prison. Word has arrived that he has escaped and is heading back to wreak vengeance upon the Valley. Shifu has since trained “The Furious Five” —Master Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Master Monkey (Jackie Chan), Master Crane (David Cross), Master Viper (Lucy Liu), and Master Mantis (Seth Rogen). But it is the ancient and wise turtle-priest Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) who is to choose the Dragon Warrior. Through a crazy accident that sends Po up on a sky high rocket-propelled chair, landing him in the midst of the ceremony, Oogway announces that Po is to be the Dragon Warrior.

Owing much to Rocky and The Empire Strikes Back, the sequence in which the Yoda-like Master Shifu trains Po in the art of fighting is fun to watch. When nothing seems to work to motivate the lethargic and clumsy Po, Shifu uses the panda’s love of food to galvanize the pupil into action. Po must fight for every morsel of food, with Shifu winning every bite at first as they dual with chop sticks. The final battle over one square noodle in a bowl is a delight, much more intventive than the actual battle against the villain later on.

Unlike the young hero Daniel in The Karate Kid, paunchy Po does not have unlimited time for his mentor to transform him physically into a Kung-fu master, with the arrival of the villain only days away, and yet—. As hard to believe though the story might be, the film is still worth seeing in the company of young viewers.

For Reflection/Discussion

1) What do you think of Po—does he seem like the usual movie hero? What does he have that seems to be the most helpful in becoming a hero? (Yes, he sticks to a task; he keeps trying.)

2) Po’s father wants his son to run the family business some day. Is this what Po wants? What is his dream? How can this be a problem in a family when a parent and a child do not have the same goal or dream for the future?

3) Master Shifu becomes the teacher or mentor of Po. Do you have someone like that who can guide and teach you?

4) Oogway says, “There are no accidents.” What do you think he means by that? That there is a purpose for everything? Or some One guiding things? (See the prayer of the Apostles in which they say that God’s hand guided even the enemies of Christ and the gospel. Adults might have to explain “predestine. “) Compare Oogway’s view of the world with that of another famous film (Forest Gump) in which the hero says, “Things happen.” What do you think?