Kung Fu Paindoo
Disney plots, at the end of the day, are simply more versions of the same old story of the American Dream.
Yesterday, I had another encounter with Disney*: I watched Kung Fu Panda 2.
The bits I loved, and I really loved them, were the jokes. So when the Evil King, a peacock with a stainless steel body and lethal blade-feathers, yells exultantly to its minion-wolf: “CALL IN THE WOLVES! All of them! I want them ready to move! The Year of the Peacock begins NOW!” The minion, instead of running along to hasten the orders, pauses, “Right now?” he wonders aloud. “‘Cause it’s the middle of the year, so you’d only get, like, half of the Year of the Peacock.”
But generally speaking the experience was quite mind numbing. I am not even complaining about the grating action sequences where shots were snipping in such rapid, overwhelming succession that it left you resenting that cartoons had evolved from the days of hand reels. I take umbrage at the gloriously inane Disney plots that, at the end of the day, are simply more versions of the same old story of the American Dream. Like every other Disney hero, Kung Fu Panda, even though he’s in ancient China, is yet another American teenager, and like all his predecessors, another ordinary Joe-the-Plumber, who through hard work, perseverance, a sexy sidekick (a tigress in this case), etc, turns into a hero, lays into the bad guys, and saves the world, and that’s that — goodbye and good luck.
I know most would protest this as unjust criticism: Disney after all, is just for kids. Fair enough, but I only argue against the singular way of seeing that Disney reinforces. Surely, there are other stories for kids that are worth telling too, and other ways of seeing the world that are far more enriching than regurgitating the same hackneyed, formulaic story. No? Think about stories in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh.
Let me add however, that I am also using ‘Disney’ in a more general sense: as an attitude toward entertainment: its production and consumption. More on that later though; for now, read this poem by the brilliant Urdu poet, Afzal Ahmed Syed , translated by Musharraf Ali Farooqi.
If My Voice Is Not Reaching You
If my voice is not reaching you
add to it the echo—
echo of ancient epics
And to that—
And to the princess—your beauty
And to your beauty—
a lover’s heart
And in the lover’s heart
This poem is unusual in many ways. Instead of offering a narrative or images to ponder over, it seems to be constructed of symbols which vibrate with stories already present in our subconscious — stories of a princess, ancient epics, beauty, the lover’s heart, a dagger. By doing so, this poem is doing two things: a. claiming itself to be an echo of ancient epics, and b. for that reason, vying for a spot in the ranks of the ancient epics.
The other thing that one can quickly note here is the two solid, material objects present in the poem: the voice and the dagger, which occur in the first and last lines respectively. Between these two, exists the poem very much like a series of echoes. This observation also lends more meaning to the structure itself — try reading it backwards.
Reading this poem, one thing would be clear to you: engaging with any form of serious art means expending effort to create your own meaning. Serious art is the great nourisher of consciousness in the sense that it develops in you a capacity to make sense of reality; to not just arrive at meaning, but also understand how that meaning has been created. That creates room for empathy toward other points of view, other ways of conceiving the world.
Disney’s agenda however is much simpler: just shut down your imagination. Eat popcorns instead.
Published in The Express Tribune.
*Kung-Fu Panda was produced by DreamWorks Animation.