I saw Kung Fu Panda on Saturday night with a pair of 13-year-old boys and a couple of 8-year-old girls. The teenagers were just as keen to see the movie as the little girls were, and as a parent of kids with almost six years between them, I'm almost pathetically grateful for movies that bridge that age gap. We can all go see a movie together -- yay!
The movie is visually really beautiful and inventive. It's funny. There's a lot of fighting, but much of the violence comes from stylized kung-fu moves that knock a character backward (say), but don't actually look painful. (Still, kids, do not try this at home.) The story is sweet: A shambling panda named Po is improbably chosen to be the Dragon Warrior, fated to save his valley from a marauding escaped prisoner with Daddy issues. He succeeds after many a humorous misstep. There's an controlled, self-confident female character, Tigress (voiced by an icy Angelina Jolie), who strides around owning everything without a hint of stereotypical girliness. (Wish I could say the same about Viper, voiced by Lucy Liu -- Viper is also a kick-butt warrior, but she unaccountably wears what looks like a pair of egg cups on her head, just to assure the audience that she's really a girl, I guess, since there's no such thing as a "Vipress." )
So a lot to like about Kung Fu Panda, but what hit me upside the head on Saturday night was the movie's casual use of the word "fat" as an insult. Yes, Panda is out of shape and overweight and far more interested in his next meal than anything else. At one point, though, Tigress tells him that he doesn't belong at the Jade Palace because, among other things, he's "fat."
What is UP, DreamWorks? We spend a fair amount of time, as parents, teaching our kids that insults like these are unacceptable. Childhood obesity rates translate into an audience made up of more than a few overweight kids. How are they going to feel as the audience around them laughs at a joke that slaps them in the face? You're fat! You suck! Ha-ha-ha! It's a jarring misstep in an otherwise funny, well-made movie for families. Something to talk about with the kids.
Melissa at Shakesville is thinking about the same things.