We took Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl to see Kung Fu Panda 2 over the Memorial Day weekend. Monkey Man has been obsessed with Kung Fu Panda, and our whole family knows the story. The first time I watched the movie, I wondered about the father-son relationship between the Panda, Po, and the Goose, Ping, who is is father and noodle shop owner. The father was clearly a single parent, and there was never a mention of the mother. And then there are the obvious species differences that made me wonder when the issue of adoption would arise. In the first film, the audience is left to wonder, but in Kung Fu Panda 2, the adoption issues come to the foreground.
Reviewers have noted the Moses-like story of Po’s foundling status and Ping’s role as the one who keeps the secret. Po knows that he was found in a basket of radishes, but not much more. However, through dreams and memory, he begins to investigate his true identity. Po’s search for his history follows the arc of his search for the reason behind the evil Shen’s desire to take over China. Po uncovers attempted genocide — and the larger implications of historical genocides or even of the Cultural Revolution lie beneath the story.
The director of the film paid careful attention to the issues of Po’s search for his history and biological family. Po’s acceptance of his adopted father as his “father” and his understanding of the circumstances that brought him to Ping mirror some of the issues that adopted children will face or have faced. However, Po’s relatively quick acceptance of his story, the large brush strokes the film uses to paint a self-sacrificing mother and a savior-like adoptive parent, sets adopted children back. Not all of them will come to terms so quickly with the whims of social inequity and unfairness that have made international adoption a necessity. Some of them will never know the full story of their adoption, and for some, the painful truths may take a lifetime to manage.
However, what is hopeful in this film is the voice it gives to unraveling the pieces of the story for adopted children. Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl did begin to ask more questions about their own stories after we watched the film, and even though they are still only four, they were attune to the plot and story of the film. Sometimes the opportunities for discussion about adoption come from unexpected places, like blockbuster summer animated films.