It's fitting the big blockbusters come out this time of year. The holidays are about reconnecting with family, and watching movies together is one good way to do that. Lately, my husband and I have been showing the kids movies at home from our own childhoods. Last week we showed them Big with Tom Hanks and Teen Wolf with Michael J. Fox today. One thing I never noticed before is they're both filled with sexual themes. While not kid movies, they both have minors as the main characters.
Kung Fu Panda 2 is now out on DVD and it was one one of the top grossing kids' movies of the summer of 2011. This movie is a reminder many kids' films today have just replaced all the sex in movies before with more violence. Which is better?
Let's just say Kung Fu Panda 2 makes The Karate Kid look like a G rated flick. The sequel to the sweet and funny Kung Fu Panda original, right away had an opening scene that's a little disturbing. It was all about Po, the fun loving Panda played by Jack Black, playing "Chubby Bunny," the game where whoever can stuff the most amount of food in his mouth and still talk wins. Immediately I thought of the horrifying news shows I've seen over the years about how dangerous "Chubby Bunny" is and how so many children choke to death playing it each year.
OK...I was going to brush past this and think of it as an oversight. Then I was quickly reminded again why this animated movie is PG, and not G, rated. Early on, Po leaves his home on a mission to save China, and for the rest of the film his journey is packed with martial arts and weapons. I know "Kung Fu" is in the title, as my 8-year-old reminded me later, but except for an exciting scene at the end when we actually get to see the beauty and grace of Kung Fu, when Po deftly turns the fiery cannons around on the enemy, the scenes using Kung Fu were gratuitously violent, fluctuating between slapstick Three Stooges kind of injuries and scenes that were definitely darker than I was expecting. Bully taunts like "Stupid" and "Idiot" were used excessively throughout the movie as well. I kept thinking the only reason the film isn't rated PG-13 is because it's animated - very deceptive that way.
The winning part of the movie is the character of Po, though. His character is certainly why a sequel must've been planned for starters. Po is endearing like Shrek, representing the kind of friend we'd all like to have. He's funny, loyal, sweet, brave, and he doesn't take himself too seriously. My 7- year-old said his favorite part of the movie is the flashbacks to Po as an infant. Po is who and what we came for, and there wasn't enough of him in it.
In my opinion, focusing more on the themes the movie touched on like adoption, acceptance, parental love and choosing the course of our own destiny through our decisions, if they were also developed more, could have won the movie many more points.
The first Kung Fu Panda did a better job of presenting the characters and the themes. This time around the prolonged action scenes and excessive violence made for a lot less laughter than I expected. I wouldn't recommend showing this movie to anyone under 7 years old. I should've left my five-year-old and three-year-old at home.
Hopefully there are other movie gifts to give and see this holiday season; otherwise we all know there are lots in our personal archives to show the kids.
Julie Samrick is a stay-at-home mom of 4 young kids and the founder of Kid Focused, a site devoted to children and family issues. Subscribe to the free Kid Focused newsletter delivered weekly to your inbox. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com