Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Kung Fu Panda | Hero's Journey | Film Review | Year 2

Kung Fu Panda movie poster
The 2008 hit film Kung Fu Panda is more than just a kids film. Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogan and Jackie Chan are just a few of its star studded cast helping to make it an extraordinary film. It also follows ‘A Hero’s Journey’.

Po starts out as just a simple panda (whose believes a goose is his father) who dreams of being a great kung fu master. We see him in a ramshackle noodle shop. Its clear he comes from a ‘humble’ home. It’s not long before his Call to Adventure happens when Master Oogway choses him to become the Dragon Warrior seemly by chance or maybe it was fate.

There are a few points when he Refuses the Call but the main point that sticks out the most is when he runs off and begins eating all the peaches from the tree after it is made clear to him that he is unwelcome within the palace. His love for Kung Fu and the immediate clash of worlds brings a lot of conflict within him. It can also be argued that its not just Po that tries to refuse the call. His father wants him to give up his kung fu dreams and stay with him to make noodles. An odd proposition but it is the family business after all.

Po arguably has several mentors or Supernatural Aids. Shifu is literally his master and mentor who teaches him Kung Fu but it could also be argued that Oogway and Tigress also share this role. Master Oogway could be seen as this figure as it was him who believed in Po but Tigress also shares this secondary role. Although Tigress is at first very hostile towards him, this could also be seen as tough love and unwittingly gives him the directions he needs as ultimately Po learns just as much from Tigress as Shifu.

Po Crosses the First Threshold pretty quickly. This ties in with his Refusal of the Call as it is when he enters the Jade Palace to begin his training even if he does not want to be there to begin with. Its during his training that he also goes through the Belly of the Whale as his training is not necessarily the easiest of fairest but he stays strong as the walks the Road of the Trails as he fails at almost every step of the way. 

Master Oogway also has a second role in this film as not one is he a master and a mentor but for Po, he also fits into the role of Meeting the Goddess. This is more commonly backed up by Oogway’s confusing stories and anecdotes about life that really make us think. For example, when he is talking to Po under the peach tree he says “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift thats is why its called the present.”

Tigress is a key character in the film as not only could she be seen as a mentor but also as the Temptress. Although she is not luring him closer, she is actually tempting Po to leave the Jade Palace and resign from his post.

When Po becomes disheartened, he returns home to his father at the noodle shop where his dad finally shares the secret ingredient of his noodle soup only to find that there is no special ingredient. This scene also acts as the atonement with father.

Following the steps of the Hero’s Journey, it is not Po who achieves Apotheosises but Master Shifu as he realises that he was wrong. It is possible to train anyone you just need to figure out how and that maybe not everyone is cut from the same cloth. He states how he cannot teach Po in the way that he taught the Five but instead realises that Po can be training with an aid. Food.

Po has now ultimately been through a lot. He was ‘accidentally’ chosen to be the dragon warrior and pushed to his mental limits as he is bullied but he Kung Fu masters before struggling to come to terms that he is stuck in two completely different worlds. Life is most hardest when he begins his battle with Tai Lung as they fight over the rights to the Dragon scroll. The Ultimate Boon for us is when Po realises the meaning behind this shinny scroll. It is the simplest of meaning but it also has the most powerful meaning and possibly the most profound. There is no ‘secret ingredient’. Po is the Dragon Warrior simply because he should be. 

As confusing as it may be, it could be argued that in this film that the Refusal of Return actually happens before the Ultimate Boon. This is because the most fitting scene for this to happen is when everyone finds out that the Dragon Scroll is blank and Po once again thinks that he was chosen by accident. “He picked me by accident. Of course I’m not the dragon warrior.”

The Magic Flight is not necessarily a flight but the fight between Po and Tai Lung as they chase the Dragon Scroll across the village. They start from atop the mountain at the Jade Palace and leave them snugly in the heart of the village. 

Rescue from Without doesn’t really happen in this film. It could be argued that Po needs to be rescued from himself as his thoughts of self doubt could be damaging enough for him to fail on his path to becoming the Dragon Warrior but there is no monumental section of the film where it can be definitively said that he has been ‘rescued’. 

Crossing the Return Threshold is also out of place in this list because it seems like it this happens when he returns to the village during the evacuation. He is mocked by to pigs as he passes as they feel that he has let the village down by not even attempting to save them from Tai Lung.

Po simultaneously becomes the Master of Two Worlds and achieves the Freedom to Live when he defeated Tai Lung and is cheered and accepted by the other warriors as well as the villagers.

Overall this is a remarkable film but although I have used Campbell’s Hero’s Journey step by step guide to analyse this movie, I would argue that Vogler’s version fits a lot better to this film. This is due to the way a lot of the steps have been merged for have a similar meaning and also allows for the more mismatched sequence like I have found this film appears to follow. A lot of the hero’s journey steps also have 2 or more possibilities through out the film making it a much more complex film than first thought. 


  • The call to adventure: Master Oogway selecting him as the Dragon Warrior
  • The refusal of the call: Running away from the Jade Palace
  • Supernatural aids: Master Shifu, Master Oogway and Tigress
  • Crossing the threshold: beginning his training at the Jade Palace
  • The belly of the whale: his training in the Jade Palace
  • Road of Trails: Po beginning his training with Shifu
  • Meeting the Goddess: Or God. Master Oogway 
  • Woman as temptress: Tigress
  • Atonement with father: when Po returns home and his dad tells him the ‘secret ingredient’
  • Apotheosis (God like status): Master Shifu works out the everyone can be trained but in a different way and uses food to train Po
  • The ultimate boon: He realises the secret to the Dragon scroll
  • Refusal of return: Finding out the secret to the Dragon Scroll is not as it seems.
  • Magic flight: the fight between Tai Lung and Po which stretches from the Jade Palace to the centre of the village
  • Rescue from without: Doesn’t really happen. Could be Po needing reducing from hi sown thoughts.
  • Crossing the return threshold: When he returns to the village doing the evacuation and some pigs mock him as he passes.
  • Master of two worlds: When Tai Lung is defeated and is cheered and accepted by the other warriors and villagers
  • Freedom to live: When the 5 and the villagers accept him as the Dragon Warrior and the village is at peace.

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