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U.S.A. Popcorn Adventure #55
June 04, 2008

Countdown to the Beijing Olympics

Kung Fu Panda + Chinese Garden

No doubt your kids are poised, fists cocked and legs akimbo, for the martial arts action in Kung Fu Panda. With stunning animation that explores the splendors of the Chinese culture and landscape, and a colorful cast of animal warriors, this film is a great choice to launch a summer that will culminate in the spectacle of the Beijing Olympics. Jack Black voices a lumbering, overweight Panda named Po who is obsessed with martial arts. One day, Po strays from his humble job in his family's noodle-making business, and through a series of blunders, ends up being a candidate for Dragon Warrior, the most revered position in the Valley of Peace. Matched up against the Furious Five -- wonderfully drawn animals who are martial arts masters -- our kids were treated to amazing and action-packed marital arts sequences (Angelina Jolie voices a tigress who believes she is the rightful Dragon Master). When an evil snow leopard with lethal skills threatens to destroy Happy Valley, lowly Po must prove his prowess. Ultimately, Po learns to believe in himself, and that turns out to be the most important skill of all for a Dragon Master.

Channeling our inner Po, we visited a local Chinese Garden. As we walked in, giant Foo Dogs guarding the path to the exhibit helped our kids feel like they were entering a different world. Gardens deliver delight for the senses, and a chance to slow down -- in China, they serve as a spot to think, to seek balance. And these gardens get that vibe just right, with grace and visual poetry of Chinese culture. The garden frames nature from a new point of view: rocks, graceful pavilions and delicate trees are set against a wall, decorated with scrollwork cut-outs and wave-like tile. Although our kids did not quite care about the composed vistas, or the symbolic meanings of the plants, they easily surrendered to the calm, spending what felt like hours peering into a koi-filled lake, the giant colored carp prized in Japan and China. We wound up our garden tour at the tea house, where we honored Po by sipping a cup of Silver Jasmine Dragon tea, and sharing a moment of serenity in a day of East-West fusion -- a perfect balance.

 
Film Title: Kung Fu Panda
Directed By: Mark Osborne and John Stephenson
2008, Rated G, 91 minutes


Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Film:

  • Why This Film is Worth It: Kids of all ages will enjoy a virtual trip to China, and the well-researched martial arts elements of this story will keep kung fu kids happy. With colorful characters who can all kick-butt, this film is fine for kids over 6.
  • Red Flags: The villain, snow leopard Tai Lung, escapes from a well-guarded prison and is a formidable foe to Po and the Furious Five. Smaller children may be frightened in the loud battle scenes. Also, the martial arts scenes are filled with peril, though they feel a lot less threatening because they are performed by animated animals who we know will be the ultimate heroes.
  • Further Viewing: Our children love Mulan, whose feminist tale is great for all, and appropriate for the very small. Tweens and teens can be introduced to the flying martial arts wizardry in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or House of Flying Daggers, although parents are advised to watch with their kids as there is some sexuality, and considerable violence. That being said, the films are extremely well-made and worthy of careful introduction to savvy viewers.

Our tips for Talking with your kids about this Film:

  • Marketing Savvy: Kids today are subjected to a massive onslaught of media when a family film receives a wide-release. DreamWorks has built an elaborate website for Kung Fu Panda, and though kids will enjoy playing on it, it's interesting to talk with them about the myriad of platforms for the characters and storyline. Ask them first to name some of them (film, DVD, game, etc.) and explain that they are all profit centers for the producing studio. Does one drive the other, or are they all legitimate ways for the film's story to 'live' in the world?


 

Visit a Chinese Garden


Time Allotment: Three Hours
Age Recommendation:
Three and Up



Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom About this Adventure;

  • What Worked for Us: Gardens are often best in the morning, before the day heats up. Make sure everyone is hydrated and not too hungry before entering -- bring a snack, just in case! Sunscreen is a must, and hats are a good idea. It’s fun to bring a notebook, and jot down the birds and butterflies that you are sure to see. If your local gardens are too big to cover in one day, plan to visit two or three features on this visit, and save more for next time.
  • Before You Go: Research your gardens online to see what flowers are in bloom, or if any kid-friendly exhibits are planned.
  • How we visit Chinatown: It's easy to introduce kids to Chinese food. Start with the not-even-slightly intimidating choices of egg rolls and rice and move up to braver choices of moo-shu pancakes or wonton soup -- the earlier you start children on new tastes, the better!

Our City Editors' tips for enjoying this Popcorn Adventure around the USA:

  • Anywhere: Google your city + Chinese Gardens.  Check your local park systems, and arboretum's for Chinese themed gardens.
  • Boston: Tenshin-en, or the Garden of the Heart of Heaven, is one of New England’s few semi-public viewing gardens in the Japanese style. Named in honor of the museum’s first curator of Asiatic Art, Okakura Tenshin, the garden provides a spiritual shelter from the noise and confusion of daily life. Built within the walls of the Museum of Fine Arts in 1988, it was designed to resemble the New England landscape, featuring over 200 rocks and 70 species of plants and color-filled flowers. Open to museum visitors from April to November, from Tuesday through Sunday, 10-4.
  • Chicago: Ping Tom Memorial Park is a 12-acre city park located in Chinatown. (Specifically at 19th St. and the South branch of the Chicago River.) The park has a children's playground, community gathering areas, and a riverfront pavilion and bamboo gardens. Don't miss the annual Dragon Boat Race—this year, the race will be hosted Saturday, July 26th, between 9am-4pm.
  • New York: You don't have to travel to China to experience the peace and tranquility; the 'yin-yang' of a Chinese Garden right here in New York City. Visit the Chinese Scholar's Garden in Staten Island and enjoy the courtyards, bridges, reflecting pools and plantings of bamboo and lotus. This peaceful oasis is considered to be the only authentic classical Chinese Scholar's garden in the United States! Check it out by hopping the S40 bus from the St George Ferry Terminal.
  • Los Angeles:  A spectacular new garden, Liu Fang Yuan, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance opened in 2008 to much fanfare at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. As we walked in, giant Foo Dogs guarding the path to the exhibit helped our kids feel like they were entering a different world. Gardens deliver delight for the senses, and a chance to slow down -- in China, they serve as a spot to think, to seek balance. And these gardens get that vibe just right, with grace and visual poetry of Chinese culture. The garden frames nature from a new point of view: rocks, graceful pavilions and delicate trees are set against a wall, decorated with scrollwork cut-outs and wave-like tile. Click here for our LA adventure on this fabulous location.
  • San Francisco: Though San Francisco boasts one of the most visited Chinatowns in the country, there is no destination spot that is solely dedicated to a contemplative Chinese Garden. There is, however, an excellent garden at the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park that hosts a South East Asian Cloud Forest, and an East Asia glen filled with Japanese maples, water iris and sedge surrounding the peaceful Anelli Pond.
  • Washington, D.C.: Take a walk through the Asian Collection at the National Arboretum. Something is blooming every month of the year! Make sure to see the red pagoda which sits at the top of Asian Valley. The collection covers 13 acres from the top of Hickey Hill to the Anacostia River. Park at the lot on Hickey Hill for best access. Currently in the works is a 12-acre Classical Chinese Garden being developed by a joint team of designers from the People's Republic of China and the United States. Click here to learn more.

 
Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.



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