Kung Fu Panda 2: Is desire all you need?
A common theme of my movie-related posts lately has been the lack of originality in Hollywood. Alas, the previews playing before Kung Fu Panda 2 offer little reassurance about the situation.
Coming soon to your local megaplex: a movie based on a 1980s Saturday morning cartoon. A sequel to an animated movie about talking cars. The FOURTH movie in the Spy Kids franchise. A spinoff of the Shrek franchise. Mr. Popper's Penguins, about the least franchise-y on this list, and even that's based on a children's book. The first installment in a trilogy based on a 1930s series of graphic novels.
(Actually, that last one I'm excited about. It's Stephen Spielberg and Peter Jackson taking on Tintin, one of my favorites from childhood. Love Tintin. Apparently, from what I've read, Spielberg loves Tintin, too. Here's hoping they pull it off.)
Anyway. I guess I shouldn't be all that surprised. After all, I was there to see Kung Fu Panda 2 (which Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said sounded like a series of randomly strung-together words). Back when I wrote about the first one, I complained about the way our hero Po skipped all the hard work of, you know, actually learning kung fu, and jumped straight to Dragon Warrior status (I think that's something like a black belt) and saved the valley.
As I said three years ago, I have no problem with the notion that every one of us has a Dragon Warrior inside. I know I do. But really really wanting your dreams to come true isn't usually enough. You have to have all that want combined with, like, hard work and stuff. Except in the movies, apparently.
Kung Fu Panda 2 (B-) is a fun, even charming, follow-up. It's visually slick and pleasing. It clocks in at an efficient 95 minutes. It's funny, lighthearted, a sugary treat for both kids and parents. It also has the same basic message as the first movie: Effort is irrelevant.
When we first see Jack Black's Po, he's living and working with the Furious Five, although his training consists of seeing how many bean buns he can cram in his mouth. It's funny, sure, and it confirms what the first movie suggested: Dragon Warrior is something you are, not something you do.
Clearly, at the start of the sequel, Po is enjoying having become the Dragon Warrior, but his work ethic hasn't changed. His master -- the Dustin Hoffman-voiced Shifu -- advises him that he needs to find inner peace. (Po's response: Piece of what?) Before Po finds tranquility, though, he has to head off to save China from a villanous peacock who has discovered gunpowder and also has an army of wolves and gorillas at his service.
One beef about this movie: The action sequences are too fast. It's zippy and energetic, but it's TOO zippy. The effect is disorienting, and as a viewer, you just sort of check out: Okay, action seqence here, some punching and jumping, can't quite tell what's happening, let me know when the good guys win. Another beef about this movie: the very last scene is a condescending copout. (It also gives a hint about what might be to come in Kung Fu Panda 3. Sigh.)
Anyway. You know how this goes. Bad guys, good guys, happy ending, all that. There's plenty of fighting, there's some reasonably enjoyable slapstick that's mostly about Po being klutzy and fat, ha ha, and there's some cursory backstory about Po's childhood. If you wondered how a panda ended up with a goose for a father, never fear, your questions will be answered.
Po becomes interested in figuring out where he came from, which, he thinks, will tell him who he is. He gets the answers he seeks, and achieves that inner peace, or at least enough of it to triumph over the meanest peacock in China. What he never quite figures out, though, is that who we are is what we do. Sure, everyone wants to be the Dragon Warrior, but in real life that takes work.
When I was younger, I wanted to be a writer. It was a distressingly long time before I figured out that you can't be a writer unless you do writing, and in fact the doing is way way way more important than the being.
Malcolm Gladwell proposes that it takes 10,000 hours of practice, combined with a natural talent, to be great at something. In the world of Kung Fu Panda, you can get the same result in about an hour and a half.