Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why Didn't I Like Pants?

I watched Kung Fu Panda 2 again last night, and once again I marvel at its genius. Despite the fact that it’s another Dreamworks production, the sequel employs the same Pixar-esque attention to detail as the first, along with a similar and intelligent message-driven script. Although we see the same kind of sumptuous visuals as the first film, the sequel includes two additional and highly unique visual styles: the title sequence employs paper cutouts to tell the backstory and throughout the film several 2D animated scenes serve as Po’s haunted memories. Nothing against the brilliant Ian McShane in the first one, but I found Gary Oldman’s Peacock villain more interesting, more diabolical, more insane, and more funny. While not as gag-filled as the first one, the slightly more serious sequel still has moments of Po’s buffoonery and idiocy, but I felt it packs more of an emotional impact as it deals with a child coming to terms with his lost parents and his parents’ (both biological and adoptive) love—and it packs this punch in a fairly natural way and without sentimentality.
Kung Fu Panda 2 Quotes
I could see some people finding the self-discovery theme of the film heavy handed, and with lines like the following, it’s hard to miss the message:

Soothsayer: Your story may not have such a happy beginning, but that doesn't make you who you are. It is the rest of your story, who you choose to be.
[Po remembers all the things that have happened to him in his life so far]
Soothsayer: So who are you, panda?
[Po stands up slowly]
Po: I am Po. And I'm gonna need a hat.

But I’m drawn to books and films that don’t shy away from big ideas—even when the ideas themselves are fairly played out or even a bit obvious. For instance, I’ve always liked Siddhartha and Beowulf and even Invisible Man even though the authors basically spell out what they want the reader to understand about the meaning of life, the inevitability of death, or the power of white hegemony. We also have to keep in mind that it’s a children’s film, after all, and what children’s book or film doesn’t spell out the message for its audience? I doubt most kids give much thought to thinking about who they really are, but I think it’s great that the film not-so-subtly encourages kids to think about character, not letting their past form their identity, and making right choices.  Thinking about the kind of person Po wants to become and the kinds of choices he needs to make to form that person is something Po comes to terms with. And it’s something we all face.
Kung Fu Panda 2 Quotes

The other main theme deals with the conflict between the past and progress. It’s true that this isn’t the most original idea either, and I could name a hundred books, films, songs, or poems on a related issue (Julius Caesar, Inherit the Wind, Talking Heads’ “Nothing But Flowers,” “London,” Pleasantville, The Great Gatsby, Gattaca, and many, many others). The film frames this conflict in relation to the possibility that kung fu (the past) may be overrun by Lord Shen’s new weaponry (progress). Of course, the film takes on a fairly romantic idealization of the past and, no surprise, kung fu (the past) wins out in the end. Sorry if that’s a spoiler.

Here’s my favorite line with some set up: Po’s dad describes how he found Po.

Mr. Ping: I brought you inside. Fed you. Gave you a bath. And fed you again. And again. And tried to put some pants on you. And then I made the decision that would change my life forever. To make my soup without radishes. And to raise you as my own son.
[flash back vision shows of Mr. Ping feeding baby Po his soup]
Mr. Ping: And from that moment on, both my soup and my life, have been that much sweeter. And little Po, that's the end of the story.
Mr. Ping: Oh, Po! Your story may not have such a happy beginning. But look how it turned out? You got me. You got Kung Fu. And you got noodles!
Po: I know. I just have so many questions. Like how did I ever fit in this tiny basket? Why didn't I like pants? And who am I?

Why didn’t I like pants? Love that.


  1. I like that Po's age is a bit ambiguous. Some parts of him remind me of Wyatt others an immature teen with some aspects of a young adult. The brilliance of the writing is that pretty much anyone can identify with Po. It makes the film kind of personal. Hope part 3 is as good!

  2. Tracy, I think you're the only one who reads this. Thanks for indulging me. I seriously laughted out loud at the pants line and kept thinking about it later in the film. I'm going to start saying that to Wyatt.

  3. what's with TRIED to put pants on you?

  4. I loved the "Why didn’t I like pants" part too. It's probably the only movie that makes me laugh, cry and contemplate life at the same time.