I have always marveled at how few movies with an adoption theme were out there when I was growing up. I was an ‘80s baby. I don’t recall watching any cartoons or family shows on adoption. Wait, there was Annie, the musical. I did enjoy that movie. In 1999, Disney’s Tarzan came out, and appealed to me as well, because, well, Tarzan was adopted by gorillas. Not that I consider my adoptive family gorillas! You get what I mean.
In 2008, Dreamworks made Kung Fu Panda. I remember watching it, and never thought twice about why a panda’s dad was a goose. I may have thought twice if they had mentioned Po the Panda was adopted. Po wants to become a Kung Fu fighter, and he has to train really hard. He struggles with many of the Kung Fu concepts when he first starts out, such as getting in shape and not eating so much. Po does not know why he struggles so much, but in 2011 Kung Fu Panda II is released into theaters. This movie reveals that Po is adopted. Oh! Now I get why his dad is a goose!
In this movie, he finds out he is adopted when he is an adult. The reveal happens like this: Po had a dream about his birth parents, and when he woke up, he had a feeling that it was not just a dream. He did not know he had been dreaming of his birth parents, just that they appeared to be his parents in the dream. He revealed his dream to his adoptive father, who looked at Po, paused, and then told him, “I should have told you a long time ago: You are kind of adopted.”
Po asks his dad for everything he knows about his birth family. He asks his father, “Who am I?” This movie shows the emotions, the wonder, and the hurt a child who is adopted may feel when finding out years later that they were adopted. Po leaves his adoptive father to go fight for his village. His adoptive father turns to face Po and asks before he leaves, “You are my son, right?” Po did not smile and say, “Yes, of course.” He just looked at him with questioning eyes. His whole life he felt had been turned upside down with this new discovery.
“You got to let go of the stuff from the past—because it just doesn’t matter! The only thing that matters is what you choose to be now.” – Po
Po’s adoptive father tells Po adopting him was a decision that would and did change his life forever. How often are those words spoken in the adoption community? I thought Dreamworks did an excellent job of portraying both the adoptive parent’s and adoptee’s emotions when discussing adoption.
After being told he is adopted, Po has a dream that his birth parents replaced him with a radish, and were happier with the radish because the radish was a successful Kung Fu fighter. This dream is not so different from the feelings of some adoptees. Po’s dream symbolizes how he feels abandoned by his birth parents. He wonders if he was given up because he was not “good enough.”
In Kung Fu Panda II, Po is told by a wise friend before battle: “Your beginning may not have been happy, but that doesn’t make you who you are today.” When Po is fighting, he starts to be okay with being adopted. He learns some important lessons as he fights. As they begin to battle, Po tells his foe, “You got to let go of the stuff from the past–because it just doesn’t matter! The only thing that matters is what you choose to be now.”
Po returns to his adoptive father’s restaurant after defeating his foes and embraces his father. He has come to understand and accept his adoption. He has realized that his adoptive father and his life has shaped him into the panda he has become. This movie uses quotes that can be used when speaking to those who are adopted and may be trying to make sense of being adopted.
Now, Kung Fu Panda III portrays a reunion with an adoptee and his/her birth father. This movie starts out with Po’s birth father coming to his village, looking for Po. Po finds himself staring at an older version of himself. His birth dad tells Po who he is, and Po’s eyes light up. He then realizes he is a panda.
I personally related to this part of the movie. It reminded me of my feelings when I discovered my biological family and met people I resembled. After Po realizes he is a panda, he has many “aha” moments. He is walking with his father, and his father tells him, “We are Pandas, we don’t do stairs.” Po exclaims, “I’ve waited my whole life to hear those words!” Po realizes his love of naps and food is also hereditary. The conversations and events in this movie correlate very well to words and events adoptees may say and see after encountering their biological roots. Po travels to where he was born, and he is overcome with how much everyone looks like him.
This movie also includes a meeting between adoptive parents and birth parents, and some of the emotions that could result. Po’s adoptive father is scared that his birth dad may take Po away from him, causing him to sneak away in Po’s backpack when he travels to a village with his birth dad. This scene is at a level that young children can comprehend. Later on in the movie, Po’s adoptive father looks at his birth dad and tells him, “Po doesn’t know who he is.” This shows understanding on the adoptive dad’s part. He realizes Po needs to know where he came from.
The Kung Fu Panda trilogy is a great way for children and teenagers to learn about the emotions that can surface in adoption, and the many roads that can be traveled along the adoption journey.