Year Released: 2011
Directed by: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Starring: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan
(PG, 91 min.)
"The child is father of the man." William Wordsworth
Yet another film that affirms the Golden Age of Hollywood Animation is alive and thriving. It is hard to match this second panda saga for its sheer exuberance, its family friendly humor and its rollicking nonstop action.
Po (Jack Black), looking like a cross between your favorite stuffed animal and a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloon, as some critics have commented, is still the awkward newbie, but what he lacks in physique, he makes up for in spirit. In fact, part of the reason this film works so well is that the unique fit between him and his voiceover, the pudgy Jack Black, ushering in a new type of leading man into Hollywood, the roly-poly hero who bowls you over with his bigger than life personality -- a lot less painful that the full body slam of his person, which is what he reserves for his enemies.
Our poor Dragon Warrior has little time to enjoy his newfound status when an existential threat invades his kingdom portending something worse than the end of the world – the end of Kung Fu. Seeing as the porcine panda has invested ages of practice in finally mastering this martial art, the news hits hard. It will be up to him and his band of fellow kung fu masters, The Furious Five, to find and defeat the evil albino peacock, Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), who is crafting an ultimate weapon to rule all of China. To have a strutting peacock as a sort of evil genius is just the sort of unconventional turn that lights up this film.
In fact, there is much the adult filmmakers could learn from this child’s fare. The first lesson is about restrictions, and how they do not diminish but rather enhance. That exquisite verse form the sonnet, roped in by meter, complex rhyme patterns, and a fourteen line duration, has given us some of the most memorable pieces of literature in existence. Children’s films have their own restrictions. The have to be family friendly. They cannot shower us in blood, make us into unwilling voyeurs, or indulge in the more scatological vulgarity that trademarks so many summer adventures strangely labeled as adult fare. So they turn to some of the older traditions seemingly out of favor in our "edgier is better" world: tales of courage, honor, and loyalty.
Actually, Kung Fu Panda 2 is so traditional, it is almost Greek in its origins. There’s more than a touch of the Oedipus story lingering here, though our tale renders it less a tragedy by dividing Oedipus across two characters. Like the original Oedipus, Po is orphaned at an early age but only finds out about it much later on. Of course, part of the humor, mostly from the adult members in the audience, comes from Po’s sudden concern that the fussy old goose who runs a noodle shop may not, indeed, be his biological father. But below the humor, is the echo of the age-old question: Who am I?
Lord Shen, the Peacock, embodies the darker strains of Oedipus. When he learns from a soothsayer that a creature of black and white will defeat him, he sets out to forestall that challenge in a manner that also echoes the Biblical story of King Herod’s massacre of the innocents in his attempt to rid himself of a rival born to be “king of the Jews.”
Another thing that any of us learns when dealing with children is that we have to strip things down to their essentials. This, of course, is a much more complex task than one might imagine. Just ask any parent to recall answering the question, “Where do babies come from?” Before you can reduce something to its essential nature, you have to find and explore that nature.
What, for instance, is the nature of evil? Children seem to accept and understand evil at a basic level that is in a sense more profound that the adult view. I have always been impressed by a single recurring question my young grandchildren asked when they first began watching films and cartoons. “Is he a bad guy?” they queried. First of all, is the utter acceptance that there are, in fact, bad guys out there, and second, that it was of grave importance to determine who they were. We adults, so caught up in society’s role in creating evil, often try too hard to explain it away. Are we, perhaps the ones in the state of denial?
In King Fo Panda 2, for instance, as well as the original film, the evil characters are not victims of circumstance as they might have been portrayed in more adult films. The evil snow leopard Tai Lung from the first film, was the former student and foster son of Master Shifu, and he was treated with love and respect. So too, with Shen, whose good parents are appalled at his actions.
The evil is there as a given, but the film does not focus on it as much as bounce off it, which given Po’s shape, is not too hard to do. In fact, Po, the unlikely hero, the overweight Dragon Warrior whose Kung Fu training relied as much on treats as the schooling at Sea World, is himself a valuable role model. He doesn’t ignore his flaws; in fact he accepts them with wit and humor, remarking when he reaches Lord Shen’s palace. “Ah, my old enemy – stairs.”
He is the shining star that tells every imperfect being that success is not limited to the chosen few, but the to few who choose it.
— Kathy Borich
Po grows up in a noodle shop, probably not minding the work because he has free access to all the goodies. And to look at him, you know he does more behind the closed doors of the kitchen than wash dishes and dream of kung Fu. This Asian import puts our Pillsbury Dough Boy to shame, who would at best become his mini me.
Enjoy these other treats, too, before you settle down to our delicious and spicy pork and noodle dish. Practice your Kung Fu before your feast, though, or simply bust your moves in your imagination as you savor every bit.
Spicy Kung Fu Noodles with Pork
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok over medium high heat. Add the following ingredients:
- 1/4 cup green onion
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)
- 1/3 cup roasted red pepper, chopped (from jar)
- 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 pork chop, cut into bite sized pieces (large Pork Loin Blade Chop or End Cut)
- Dashes of salt and black pepper
Stir fry ingredients for about 4 minutes, then add:
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 4 cups cooked noodles, such as spaghetti or lo-mein
- 2 Tablespoons oyster sauce
- 1/3 cup water
Stir fry an additional 2 minutes.
Serve on platter with a sprig of fresh parsley (optional).
Serves 3 to 4.
Recipe Source: cookeatshare.com