“Kung Fu Panda 2” deserves praise for being pretty, but merits a warning over its worldview.

Like the first film in the franchise, its Oriental scenery is bright and vivid, and its animation is more like watching a living painting than the other Crayola creations audiences are used to seeing from cartoons.

The movie also contains some genuinely funny moments and a feel-good ending – two key components to a successful, enjoyable animated movie.

“Panda 2,” however, suffers from being a sequel more in search of capitalizing on dollars than crafting an epic saga.

While audiences learn more about the character and background of the fighting panda, Po, the other characters remain opaque and two-dimensional. It’s a real shame, as the “Furious Five,” Po’s Kung Fu companions, could offer depth and intrigue to the story, but are instead little more than afterthoughts, leaving nothing left for the film to do but dish out lots of fighting and Jack Black – the voice of Po – cracking jokes.

True, the film is fairly entertaining, but its failure to bring storyline and script up to the level of its scenery is sadly disappointing.

The movie’s messages likewise offer promise, but stray from the truth down some heavily New Age paths.

The underlying conflict in the film is a comparison of two orphaned children – Po and his newest evil nemesis, a peacock named Shen – and how they, respectively, deal with the lingering loss and pain of childhood.

Po, in his quest to find “inner peace,” discovers he is the adopted orphan of a slaughtered tribe of Pandas. Rather than let this knowledge turn him to revenge or hatred, however, he finds another path:

“Your story may not have had a happy beginning,” the Soothsayer character advises Po, “but that is not the end of the story. It is who you become, who you choose to be that matters. So … who are you?”

From this sage advice, Po is able to shed his pain through … um, you know … the movie never really makes that clear.

It’s implied some sort of self-realization on the way to “inner peace” makes panda Po all soft and plushy. Forgiveness might have been a nice touch, but perhaps that’s a bit “too Christian” for this distinctly Eastern film.

Shen, meanwhile is the bitter son of deceased parents whom he believes never loved him, and the anguish has driven him to evil.

In a somewhat more fulfilling conversation, Shen asks Po why the panda didn’t turn as evil as the peacock:

“How did you find peace? I scarred you for life,” Shen insists, referring to the fact that he killed Po’s parents.

“Scars heal,” Po responds.

“No they don’t,” Shen replies. “Pain heals.”

“Er, yeah. But you gotta let go,” Po insists. “The only thing that matters is who you choose to be now.”

Demonstrating he’s learned the lesson of the Soothsayer, Po is proven the good guy, overcomes his past and moves on to his glorious future as China’s “Dragon Warrior.”

And if this were all there was to the “Panda 2” premise, I think I could endorse it as very positive and therapeutic.

But it’s not.

For Po’s desire to know where he came from and what happened to his birth parents is a quest put before him by his Kung Fu master, who tells him “every master must find his path to inner peace,” some through meditation, some through fasting and some through pain.

“Once I found inner peace,” his master explains, “I was able to harness the power of the universe.”

This Eastern, mystic, New Age-like blather, unfortunately, pervades the film. It’s the protagonist panda’s prime motivation. It’s the underlying religion upon which the movie builds its otherwise positive message.

Yet no matter how pretty and positive the film’s message may be, building a pretty pagoda on such a sandy foundation makes the entire structure in danger of falling down (Matthew 7:24-27). Indeed, the absence of real meat in the storyline, depth in the characters or truth in the moral of the story make “Kung Fu Panda 2” a sequel worth skipping.

Content advisory:

  • “Kung Fu Panda 2” contains no profanity or obscenity.
  • Neither does the film contain any significant sexuality.
  • It does, however, contain heavy amounts of martial arts fighting and violence, chase scenes, explosions, punching, kicking and so forth, even more so than in the first film. There’s also a humorous sequence where a Chinese parade dragon (worn as a costume by the movie’s heroes) “eats,” “digests” and “poops” out enemy warriors.
  • “Kung Fu Panda 2” is also steeped in Eastern religious concepts and imagery, from the frequent display of the Taijitu symbol, to mystical fighting powers given the masters of Kung Fu, to a Soothsayer who foretells the future through potions and incantations and more. Chinese dragons and ornamentation and statuary are seen throughout the film as well, though these may not have any specific religious meaning. One scene prominently displays the use of acupuncture. Finally, the discussion of finding “inner peace” to tap the “power of the universe” is accompanied by meditative rituals, chanting and the stylized manipulation of the elements.

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