With the release of Kung Fu Panda 2 this week, it seemed like a great time to investigate the rich and detailed history of the panda in cinema and television. However, after some research, it became clear the bear has been largely underrepresented on screen, particularly in the live action arena. What a terrible idea…
Even more distressing, there haven’t been any panda monster movies like I had hoped. Aspirations of discovering a low-budget B-movie about a panda stalking a dwindling crop of teenagers, snapping them like bamboo twigs and drinking their blood proved disappointingly fruitless.
The logic should have been obvious, though. Pandas are traditionally slow, docile and most importantly, extremely cute. They are the very definition of “charismatic megafauna,” which simplified, basically describes an animal that’s so darn photogenic that it can’t help but evoke deep compassion in all of us. There’s a reason the symbol for the World Wildlife Fund is a huggable panda (named after Chi Chi the Giant Panda in 1961).
As a result, in the rare occasions that pandas appear in movies and TV, they are often presented exactly as they are in real life – charming and irresistibly adorable. This doesn’t exactly make them the most exciting subject for audiences flopped in front of a screen, but the bear has managed to appear a few productions, most of which are simply bizarre.
One of the first big panda pushes in America came early in the 1970s. Historically referred to as “The Panda Diplomacy,” it all began when The People’s Republic of China began loaning Giant Pandas for display at zoos in America. Crowds flocked and interest in the animal was raised, resulting in some panda documentaries, and most notably, a couple of fictional animated escapades.
First to jump on the bandwagon was the series “The Brady Kids” (1972-1974). Yes, we’re talking about those Brady Kids. Enjoying the success of the live-action series, the young cast lent their voices to an animated program in which the children hang out in an elaborate tree house with their friends before embarking on adventures. Inexplicably, their pals include a talking red bird in a wizard’s hat and, in a staggeringly offensive cultural stereotype, a pair of panda cubs named Ping and Pong.