Kung Fu Panda 2
Release Date: June 23
The American summer has begun and though it’s starting to freeze over this side of the planet, kids films are blossoming in the US. This year’s offerings include the return of some animated franchises, my favourite being Kung Fu Panda 2.
Dreamworks has embraced the best the 3D craze to create a film that is as beautiful to watch as it is amusing. Jack Black returns as the voice of Po, the unlikely overweight Panda who became the legendary Dragon Warrior at the end of the last film. In that tale we were briefly introduced to Po’s father who inexplicably took the form of a Chinese duck. Now our gullible hero is shocked to discover he is adopted. What unfolds is a tale that is as much about parenting and identity as it is about the secrets of kung fu.
The villain of Kung Fu Panda 2 is a peacock called Lord Shen, voiced by Gary Oldman. Shen threatens to end kung fu forever by introducing an age of explosive weapons. But it soon becomes clear that he is trying to somehow prove himself to his long-dead parents. Likewise Po is discovering that his real mother and father were the victims of Shen’s earlier rampages. Whether they thought he was worth saving goes a long way to building or breaking his confidence.
I can’t help wondering whether Dreamworks looked at the demographics of the western world and thought it was time to shape a storyline around fractured families. Present or absent, both the good guy and the villain are assured that their parents truly love them. A wise old goat – literally, a goat – tells Shen that his parents loved him so much, “… they had to send you away, and it killed them.” Likewise Po’s adopted father wants him to not let his missing family overwhelm his bright future. “Your story may not have had such a happy beginning,” the duck says, “but look how it turned out!”
I think Christians can get behind a film that promotes the idea of adoption bringing happiness out of a tragic situation. After all, every believer begins their spiritual journey by entering into the family of God as an adopted son or daughter. Much of Kung Fu Panda 2 is devoted to the idea of inner peace and where it comes from. Po’s Master Shifu says that some people arrive at it through a great deal of suffering, others through accepting the truth. Po himself breaks free from his fears when he learns to turn his back on what came before and embrace his new father: “The only thing that matters is what you choose to be now.” It’s not the Gospel, but it’s a good starting point for a conversation.
Lawrence Leung’s Unbelievable
Release Date: Wednesdays, 9:30 PM
Television viewers who have vague and unsatisfying memories of Lawrence Leung’s Choose Your Own Adventure series will be encouraged to know that the bearded Asian comedian is back with much better material this time around.
Lawrence Leung’s Unbelievable is a six-part, weekly half-hour series that tackles topics on the edge of human understanding. Week one Lawrence took his comic magnifying glass to controversies surrounding the world of psychics. This included some predictable elements like a trip to the Mind Body Spirit Festival and an appearance at a sceptics convention in the US. But there were also unexpected gems like a truly informative interview with Lynne Kelly, the author of The Sceptic’s Guide to the Paranormal. was able to shine some light on the common techniques used by television and stadium psychics to dupe their audiences, including cold and hot readings and ‘confirmation bias’.
This last technique involves dazzling punters with vague enough statements that appeal to, and are confirmed by, their own preconceived beliefs. Sounds unlikely? Well Lawrence does an excellent job showing just how easy it is by setting up a free psychic reading booth and making predictions based on the lyrics of Karaoke classics. Even Who Let The Dogs Out? can sound like a message from the beyond to a true believer when its coming from a man wearing a turban.
In coming weeks Lawrence will tackle other hot-button beliefs like ghosts, UFOs and magic. However the topics vary, Leung’s mixture of “… not so scientific research and real life experiments,” looks geared to establishing universal skepticism, leaving me to believe that Unbelievable is exactly what he thinks of the areas he’s investigating. The pity with this approach is that if you set out to prove you don’t believe in something the chances are you will find exactly the evidence you’re looking for. The same holds true for the spiritual as well as the paranormal. Even faith in God’s promises, the writer to the Hebrews says, has to involve at least some degree of trusting in what we cannot see.