Kung Fu Panda (2008)

Rated: PG for sequences of martial arts action.
Length: 91 minutes
Grade: AB+A-A=AA
Budget: $130 million
Box Office: $708 million (215 U.S., 416 Intl., 77 DVD)
Written by: Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger (King of the Hill, Mat TV) and Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris (Bulletproof Monk, Sleeper Cell episodes)
Directed by: Mark Osborne (SpongeBob Squarepants) and John Stevenson (Father of the Pride)
Starring: The voices of Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Jackie Chan, Seth rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, and Randall Duk Kim.

The precarious balance in the Valley of Peace is disrupted when the notorious villain Tai Lung escapes from his maximum security prison, seeking revenge against his master, Shifu. Unfortunately for everyone, Master Oogway is convinced that the legendary Dragon Warrior who will defend the valley isn’t one of Shifu’s highly trained Furious Five warriors, but rather Po, the overweight, inept panda son of a noodle-maker.

Entertainment Value: A
As an animated movie for kids, this works very well. My sons both loved it. But as a martial arts movie, it’s excellent. The characters are intriguing, the animation is outstanding, the action is excellent, and the entire thing is really, really funny. Plus, this film has one of my all-time favorite martial arts battles, dumpling-style.

Superficial Content: B+
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A, Violence B, Language A, Illegal Activity A
The only issue here is violence, which is sort of to be expected given that it’s a martial arts movie. The character of Tai Lung could be scary to some children. Oh, there is one reference to Po getting punched in “his tenders,” which I thought was adorable, not vulgar.

Significant Content: A-
If you believe you are special, then you are special. The weakest candidate combined with the right insight becomes the greatest warrior. Basic nature cannot be changed, only cultivated, and the fruit will grow from the basic nature. You must honor your correct destiny, even if it’s frightening to you. Even parents can sometimes wrongly push us contrary to our destiny. Character is more important than talent. It’s good to let go of the illusion of control. When you love someone and they betray you and defile your love, it’s hard to truly love again. The one main complaint I have here thematically is that the ultimate message is that salvation (ability) is to be found within you rather than imparted to you from without (hence the Dragon Scroll’s content).

Artistic/Thought Value: A-
Okay, here’s the semi-bad news. I spent a lot of this movie feeling a bit uneasy about the seemingly obvious parallels between this and Star Wars: Obi Wan is Shifu, Yoda is Oogway, and Vader is Tai Lung. But, obviously, this semi-derivative feel is forgivable since there’s no counterpart to Po and since such relationships are extremely common in martial arts master-student films. So, putting that aside (pretty easily), I enthusiastically found loads of excellent discussion topics in this movie, including LOTS of solid Christian parallels.

Discussion Questions:
~Do you know what you are destined to do or be? How do our deepest recurring desires and passions indicate our destiny or purpose? Is aptitude a reliable indicator of destiny?
Why aren’t Christians known for their wisdom the way Buddhist monks are?
~Why was Shifu so devastated by Tai Lung’s betrayal? What impact did this have on his ability to become attached to future dependable students? Have you ever found it hard to let yourself be vulnerable because of past violations? How does Christ overcome this in us?
~Why is Shifu so upset when Oogway leaves? How is this departure similar to Christ leaving the apostles?
~Why does Po’s dad want him to follow in the family tradition of selling noodles? What insight do you get from the admission that he also used to want to go into martial arts when he was young? When someone denies their own impulses and does something else, why are they more motivated to convince others to do the same thing? What is the danger of submerging your real talents to the agenda your parents impose on you? What is the danger of resisting your parents’ advice for your life path?
~What is the meaning of the Dragon Scroll and the secret ingredient in the noodle soup? Is this a Christian message?
~Shifu finally manages to train Po to be the Dragon Warrior by finding his secret talent, even though Po seemed completely inept beforehand. How is this a Christian message?
~Is it easier to teach someone who has natural ability or high enthusiasm? Who produces more excellence in the long run?
~Does believing you are special make you special? In what way does Christianity teach you that you are special? Can self-esteem be self-generated?
~Can basic nature produce something other than what it is? Can it be changed? What is the message of the Bible?
~In what ways is Po like Jesus? In what ways not? Consider things like rejection, foolishness, and stumbling block-ness.
~Why is Tai Lung insatiable? How does this relate to his basing his identity on his martial arts skill. Do you see these impulses in any of the other characters? How is his attitude different from Oogway’s? Why was his master’s approval so important to him? Did it have anything to do with being orphaned? How did this need drive him to evil?
~Who in this movie resists Po’s destiny? Who facilitates it? Are there characters who do both at different times? What message about cooperation and relationships is being made here?
~Oogway says, “There are no accidents.” What do you think?
~Oogway says that control is an illusion, not because we have no influence over anything, but because we can’t affect the basic nature of things. What do you think? What does the Bible say?
~Oogway wants Shifu to be patient, to wait, and to act wisely. Is this always good advice? Usually?
~A lot of the jokes in this movie relate to Po being overweight. Are these jokes healthy or unhealthy for children to see? How does Po’s weight turn out to be a good thing? Is it better for overweight kids to be comfortable (like Jack Black) about their weight, or is it better for them to feel bad about it? How are jokes a source of close relationship?
Overall Grade: A
Entertaining, thought-provoking, funny all the way through, and an excellent martial arts film to boot. Well done, mostly novice film-makers. Well done. Finally, a resounding success for Dreamworks Animation.

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