I still remember when the promos for the movie Kung Fu Panda came out. I was sitting in the movie theater with my parents, probably a year before the release. I was around thirteen years old and was just hitting my stride of jaded teenager who snorted at the thought of seeing anything goofy or obviously for little kids (I liked these movies, I was just determined to act otherwise). Then the advertisement came on.
All that appeared on screen were Po’s (the panda) big eyes on his furry white face with Jack Black shouting, “Staring contest, go!” and just staring into the audience. These massive green eyes filling up that movie screen for a solid ten to fifteen seconds and some quip that I can’t quite nail down (my audio memory fails me often) near the end of it. I remember being so unnerved that all I could do was laugh and my stubbornness faded for those seconds. Later, when more specific commercials came out, I was rolling my eyes again, but family voting had me sitting in a packed movie theater the summer of 2008 ready and waiting to watch it.
I think that’s when I stopped judging movies by their trailers (though looking back now, I’m still confused how I was so dismissive and have determined brattiness). The visuals of the whole movie were breathtaking. In one climactic scene, a sword is caught and twirled and then drilled straight into the ground by a kung fu master in the movie and I was as nervous and impressed by this animated creature not cutting himself doing this move as I would have been by a real human being performing it.
But Kung Fu Panda is not only amazing because of its superb animation, or its ability to impress you with anthropomorphic animals doing kung fu, but because of the really simple, excellent messages that it conveys. At first, I just thought it was a movie about a panda who wanted to be a kung fu master, which was a funny concept – pandas don’t exactly call to mind grace and skill. (Although, if they can climb a tree and sit themselves on a branch in five seconds”¦) And of course, nobody thinks he can do it. He’s a panda! A panda! Even his enemy, who you know will escape as soon as he’s mentioned, expecting a “worthy opponent” from the highly vaunted “Dragon Warrior” laughs at him once he realizes he’s a panda.
But Po loves kung fu, and is determined to take the chance he has been provided and turn into his moment. His hopes and dreams become focused, he earns the respect of his peers and shows that the very fact that he is a panda is what makes him so awesome with kung fu. That’s why this movie rules – the point is that being yourself is enough to do whatever you want, but doesn’t smack you over the head with it. The message is there, it’s said multiple times in many different ways, but the build up is layered and it’s done inside a great and enjoyable story, some excellent humor, characters that didn’t make me want to barf, and symbolism that made the English major in me squeal.
I know I just gushed over a kids movie, but I swear, this movie not only will make you happy, it will make you feel like maybe kids will grow up okay if they’re watching movies like Kung Fu Panda.