Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2 - The Good, The Bad & The Toys

Last week Aubrey and I wend to the Dreamworks campus in Glendale to attend a special preview screening of the animated sequel Kung Fu Panda 2 . This screening also included a sneak play preview of the Mattel KFP2 toys and a lunch where fried macaroni and cheese balls and mini bundt cakes were served, so we were pretty happy campers.
A VERY excited Aubrey!
Although Aubrey was a little disappointed that there weren't any slushies and popcorn at this screening (we saw the film in an actual Dreamworks screening room) she was very excited to see Kung Fu Panda 2. She has been a long time fan of the original Kung Fu Panda movie - even though I somehow have managed to never see it - and she was pumped and ready to go for this special event.

In this 2nd installment, Po (Jack Black) joins forces with a new group of animated animal kung fu masters to take on the evil peacock Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) and his deadly new firecracker cannon. 

So I'd like to start off with the positives: 

- Kung Fu Panda 2 is visually stunning and we didn't even get to see it in 3D. Ya done good Dreamworks and I'm sure it will be even MORE stunning in 3D. For anyone who is an animation geek, this one is a must see. It was even breathtaking at times. 

- The story was interesting and held most of the kid' AND adults' attention spans for a long time. Like I said, I had never even seen the first one, but I was able to jump right on the Panda wagon and get into it.
Mattel figurines

- The Mattel toys also seemed to be a hit and we were lucky enough to take a couple of them home with us in a gift bag. Aubrey received the figurines above and ended up playing with them for well over an hour later that night. However, I did hear her yelling her own made up line of, "DON'T YOU EVER KILL MEEEEEE!!" while pulverizing the bad wolf guy with the Panda. Which leads me to the "You Judge For Yourself" portion of my review...


Here are my not so positive opinions and then we'll wrap this up in a nice little bow at the end:


- The second half of film was fairly dark and violent and from what I heard from some of the parents who had seen the first one, it was darker than the first one. But I've seen this pattern in many kids' movies, including the uber popular Toy Story franchise. Toy Story 3 kind of made me feel like I was watching the family version of Saw at one point. Anyway, I digress. My daughter is almost 4 years old and generally doesn't have too much trouble sitting through an animated feature. The last section of KFP2 is quite violent, however, and while it is action packed, it did seem to me to just go on and on and on. Just when I thought, "OK, NOW the big fight scene is over," it would gear back up again.


I guess my heads up number one for parents of little ones is that this IS a rated PG movie. If your younger child has a tough time with darkness and bad guys for a prolonged period of time, maybe not for you. And maybe my kid was a little more sensitive to it because (sorry) she's a girl and she's never pretended to shoot anything in her life. I dunno.


- Here's heads up number two and this is something that I would have liked to talk about in a Q&A perhaps, but we weren't given the opportunity, nor would our kids have sat through it... but (MINI SPOILER ALERT!!!) in the movie, we find out that Po's panda parents abandoned him to save his life when their village was pillaged by Lord Shen and his bad guys. There is a heart wrenching scene where the mama bear is shown hiding Baby Po and then running for her life. And I'll let you guess as to whether she makes it or not (the mom ALWAYS gets the axe or the lock up in animation - Bambi, Nemo, Dumbo...). While they don't show the attack on her, it is implied and the scene actually made my daughter cry and get pretty upset. Oh and I was sobbing too and so was every other mother in the house. It's sad! But I was surprised at how emotional it made my daughter. She's older now and she's starting to "get it" which is cool and scary all at once. All afternoon I had to answer the questions, "Why did the mommy bear leave her baby," "Why was the baby panda crying?" and "What happened to his mommy?" Ugh. Wahhh!


The other part of this portion of the story line (MORE SPOLIER) is that we learn that the noodle house owning goose, Mr Ping (James Hong - YAY James Hong!) adopts baby Po and raises him as his own. As a Korean born adoptee raised by geese... I mean caucasian people... this actually got me emotional on different levels and with so many Americans parenting transnational and transracial children these days, I hope they, the parents, are prepared for the barrage of emotions and questions that will come after the movie. I explained to my daughter that I was adopted by my mommy and daddy just like Po was and then she wanted to know why my mommy couldn't keep me (I don't know). Did she abandon me (yes). Was I going to ever leave her - NO! So, even though we had a great time, it turned into a bigger day of emotions and issues that I was expecting. Anyone immediately touched by adoption (birth parent, adoptive parent or adoptee) is going to have some feelings about this movie. I'm just warning my people!


- And my final and most serious issue with the film is the whitewashing of the cast. This is an American made film set in China. Yes, it's a cartoon, but it is clearly set in China (not a Chinatown in the USA) and it draws it's story, character names, movement and imagery from the rich and real history of China and Chinese kung fu. So why weren't more of the actors of CHINESE descent? Or at least Asian American? I, as an Asian American actress, get a little upset about this kind of stuff and I don't think I'm being too ridiculous. While I never felt the film was mocking Asian or Chinese culture in a way that was racist or inappropriate, throughout the entire film I kept hearing recognizable voices of non-Asian actors and the handful of actors who were of Chinese descent were in lesser billed roles. The director of KFP2 is Jennifer Yuh and so... that's cool. But the stars of the film are all white. I get it that picture deals are made and contracts are signed and Dreamworks has to do it's job to sell this movie, but there's no reason Lucy Liu shouldn't have had Angelina Jolie's top billed role and no reason James Hong or Jackie Chan shouldn't have had Gary Oldman's leading role of Lord Shen. Although, James Hong steals the show in his role as Mr Ping. He is a true pioneer and a sweetheart to boot.


But I digress... Of the 13 top billed names on the cast, only four are of Asian descent . So shame on someone. And I'm going to go ahead and say it: It's because the roles are Asian. There's even a black guy in the main 13 characters of this movie. I've already discussed this issue with some friends and some people have thrown the "But it's just an animation and you don't see the actors who are playing animals so why does it matter" argument at me. But it does matter. Asians are now and have been the most underrepresented minority on tv and film for eons and it's because we are simply not given the due respect that other human beings are given in this industry. We are not seen as Americans and we are not respected as people with spines. Therefore, it is socially acceptable to cast The Last Airbender (yikes) and Akira and Kung Fu Panda with white and even black actors. If you think I'm being a tad overly sensitive, ask yourself this question: In an animated film where a character was a white person or a black person would they hire an Asian actor to play that voice? Kind of doubt it, but the reverse is always fine when it's a role of color, even when it's not animated! We'll get there eventually, but it's a slooooow row to hoe. Yes, I just said ho and set myself up for some horrible Asian actress jokes. Go ahead. Make them. Every Asian actress has played one or been asked to play one and we all own our own lab coats for auditions. (My big prostitute role was when I was 9 months pregnant too! It was a dark, dark comedy.)



Aubrey going SKA2OOSH!
But, once again, I digress. After all of that bitching and moaning, I still think you should go see the movie. I did enjoy it and my daughter did enjoy it. I think the film is more appropriate for kids who are a little older - perhaps 6 and up (remember, intense!), but overall it was a fun moviegoing experience and Aubrey can't stop talking about it. It also introduced her to more Chinese culture has piqued her interest in martial arts. Maybe I have the next Michelle Yeoh on my hands. BTW, she played the Soothsayer and was awesome! Did I mention we got fried macaroni and cheese balls?


If you would like to learn more about Kung Fu Panda 2, please visit these official sites:


Official Movie Site: http://www.kungfupanda.com

YouTube Experience: http://www.youtube.com/dreamworksanimation

Royal Caribbean Sweepstakes!! http://www.facebook.com/kungfupanda?sk=app_199032100139302

8 comments:

  1. Fun post. Blown away that Po is adopted (insert sarcastic tone)...even more blown away to find out that you're adopted (insert even more sarcasm). Dull fact - in kindergarten when I noticed you and your geese were different-looking, you were the direct cause of my folks having to explain what "adoption" means.

    Gotta disagree, though, on the negative impact of casting (for animation or elsewhere) against stereotypically racial lines. I think it's GOOD to bend gender and race stereotypes in casting. Thor cast Tadanobu Asano as Idris Elba (asian dude and black dude, respectively) as a norse hero and a norse god. Neither choice is "historically appropriate" but so what? Why can't characters be portrayed in a way that isn't slavish to a story's background.

    I argue that if non-stereotypical casting happened MORE, then actors would be cast based more on how they nailed the role through performance...than on whether their headshot met some pre-conceived idea in the head of the director / casting agent / producer / ad client.

    Of course, short term, letting Angelina Jolie voice an asian tiger means that there's one less "slotted" role out there going to an asian actress, so I take your point on that front.

    -Tad W

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  2. amy, i wish you didn't sound apologetic/diffident in voicing your thoughts on lack of asian representation in entertainment. unless you're a blind idiot (wondering about your disagreeing friends and this tad w dude), you can't argue this point. last night i saw a handful of shows starring indian actors; we finally get asians onscreen but they're ALL from india. wtf? as if there aren't millions of tv- and movie-addicted east asian people in this country.
    tad w, dude, the race-bending sounds fucking rad, but east asians can't afford that shit: they need fair representation before it can be quirkily stolen from them. it's like telling a black person pre-rosa parks, 'hey, the back of the bus is my favorite part--you can drink and smoke and shit--woot!' you had a glimpse of realization in the end there, tad ('of course, short term...'); leave it at that.

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  3. Let's hope animation is the last bastion of whitewashing. On the bright side, I think we're seeing more Asian actors in live action films, like Randall Park in the new Tom Hanks/ Julia Roberts movie!

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  4. You know you're reading comedy when somebody compares East Asian casting in 21st century hollywood with being a pre-Rosa Parks African American in the south... (Or is the argument that "Parks" was a Korean last name?)

    Dear D:

    Food for thought - East Asians were the swing vote that made sure Prop 209 passed 5 years ago. So which part of race bending was unaffordable to East Asians then? There's an inconsistent standard in the community regarding inclusion.

    By all means, pull the ladder up behind...because it's not racism when it disparately affects Latinos and Blacks, but not East Asians...just don't forget to bring the megaphone up with so it's still possible to compare oneself to the freedom riders.

    Even be shocked when reasonable people point out the logical inconsistency and chuckle at your manufactured outrage and your lecture on racial equitability.

    <3, Your pal,
    "dude"

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  5. I agree with your comments about the lack of Asian voice actors in this movie. As for the one exception, I always like James Hong and knew who he was before his famous role in that "Seinfeld" episode. I even tried to mimic Hong's voice when I played a Chinese factory supervisor during Stevie Ray's improv class ages ago. I know, I know, another white man playing an Asian role. But I'm one-quarter Hungarian, which is better than nothing.

    - Geoff Feller

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  6. You are just an idiot, girl. First of all, your review is too long for a movie such as this. Also who cares if the actors are Asian or not? This is an American movie so we use American voices. Go make the movie in China if u want Chinese actors. Man alive, what is with this political correct garbage people spew These Days? go eat an egg roll, and shut up. Lighten up..its a cartoon..thats it.

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  7. Thanks for the review Amy. I'm a fan of Animated movies and from your description, it sounds as if I would like this one as well. The deeper storylines obviously are added to attract adult audiences, but as you stated, definitely stir up conversations afterward.
    I am a white American who agrees with you on the issue of filling roles according to the implied ethnicity. I remember how proud I was of Hollywood when actual American Indians were cast in Dancing With Wolves. After a long history of being excluded in movies. It is important! It also makes for a less distracting movie.
    Thanks
    Gary.

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  8. Great review. I agree w/u about this film. Indian Americans aren't used much either, even though 'we' have Bollywood.

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