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Narrative: Archetypes, Kung Fu Panda (2008) 07/10/2016

Figure 1: 'Kung Fu Panda' (2008) Poster
This film review will focus on the film 'Kung Fu Panda' (2008), the story follows a Panda named Po, a Panda stuck in a dead end job as a chef's assistant. Little does Po know he is destined for greatness and must undergo train to become a Kung-Fu master. Faced with his entire village being destroyed by the evil snow leopard Tai Lung, Po must rise to the challenge and defeat Tai Lung.

The film was released in 2008, was directed by John Stevenson and produced by Melissa Cobb. Ethan Reiff created the story and Hans Zimmer composed the music for the film. The film is heavily influenced by Chinese design and folklore, the most notable being the Yin and the Yang for Po's character, him being a Panda and all.

The topic this time for the film review will be Archetypes in films. Archetypes are used in a number of Hollywood films as a means of character creation & character definition. This review once again will focus on some aspects of the film for its creative qualities but for the most part this review will be picking out the Archetypes in the film.

This film is loved by many and is widely stated that this is one of Dreamworks best films, whilst its plot can be predictable at times, its technical beauty is something to behold. "The story is way too predictable, and truth to tell, Po himself didn't overwhelm me with his charisma. But it's elegantly drawn, the action sequences are packed with energy, and it's short enough that older viewers will be forgiving." (R Ebert. 2008)

Figure 2: Po
So the first main question is what is an Archetype and what kinds of character Archetypes are there? Well, to start off we will answer the first question, archetypes have been around for a long time, going back as far as 400 Bc and starts at the roots of human psychology. The way in which we as humans analyze things can sometimes lead us to assume traits. For example, you would assume Darth Vader to be evil because of how he is presented, whereas, on the other hand, Luke Skywalker is the complete opposite. We assume Persona's for characters based on looks and sounds in films, once again the example with Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker.

Now there are certain character Archetypes in films, these characters include:

The Hero
The main character for the story.

The Herald
The person who could either start the adventure or foresee what will happen.

The Mentor
The character who teaches the Hero skills, knowledge and is generally the source for most wisdom.

The Threshold Guardian
The character preventing our hero from proceeding with his quest.

The Shapeshifter
The shapeshifter is someone who has intentions but is not always clear.

The Shadow
The shadow is the inverse of our Hero.

The Trickster
Someone who causes mischief and is usually there for comedy relief.

To show support.
(Can be multiple characters.)

The Father
To show authority.

The Mother
To care, love and nurture.

The Child
The child represents innocence and honesty.

The Maiden
The maiden is the symbol of love in the film.
Figure 3: Master Shifu
Now those are more or less the core Archetypes, however, archetypes can also be merged together, for example, Deadpool is the Hero, but he is also a mixture of The Shadow and The Child, creating this hilariously cryptic and childish anti-hero. So the Archetypes can be merged to create more diverse characters, so let's try applying this to Kung Fu Panda.

The Hero:
The Hero of the story is Po.

The Herald:
The herald is Master Oogway, having a vision of the events to come, starting the whole plot for the film.

The Mentor:
The Mentor is technically two characters, them being the father Mr. Ping and Master Shifu. Master Shifu teaches Po Kung Fu and Mr. Ping gives Po the revelation of "Just be yourself".

The Threshold Guardian:
The Threshold Guardian is two characters, one being Mr. Ping because of him wanting his son to become a chef and the second is actually Po. Po is quite large and not exactly 'Adapted' for Kung Fu, so he has to overcome himself in order to become better.

The Shapeshifter:
The furious five are meant to be the guardians of the valley of peace, the most powerful Kung-Fu warriors in all of China, so when the 'Dragon Warrior' shows up it is unclear whether they either want him gone or will help him turn into the warrior they need him to be.

The Shadow:
Tai Lung is the obvious main villain of the film, locked up for years and on a path for horrible revenge against everybody and anybody who stands against him. More or less being a complete opposite of Po.

The Trickster:
Master Shifu is Po's mentor but makes no secret that he wants him gone, so he gets him into constant trouble and pain.

The furious Five are the obvious sidekicks to Po, even though he is the least experienced compared to all of them.

The Father:
Master Shifu and Mr. Ping both have some influence over Po, one of them being his father and the other being a source of all knowledge and wise, or Po's idol.

The Mother:
Master Oogway is not a 'Mother' but he is the only real character who shows care and affection for everyone. Being old and wise makes his wisdom much more useful, he almost seems like a close old grandparent.

The Child:
Po is the child in the film just because of his innocence, he never wants to truly hurt anybody and tries to stay away from conflict as much as he can.

The Maiden:
Tigress is the only real love interest in the film. She can take care of herself and is more of an independent character the love is only slightly hinted at.

You can see nearly all the roles play off of the hero, making choices based on Po's actions effect later events. Oogways death being the most significant action to get the ball rolling in the film.

Figure 4: Tai Lung
The films plot is interesting but at times can be somewhat predictable, with no real plot twists or turns the film does struggle to immerse to viewer. What the film does do correctly is create believeable characters who all have purpose/meaning, apart from a couple of the furious five everyone seems to be involved somehow. The designs of the characters are also very well done, the most exceptional being Po. It is just a shame some of of the characters are neglaected in the film, the most notable being Jackie Chan as Monkey."With Kung Fu Panda’s heavy emphasis on action and Black’s humor, there’s bound to be something that gets the short shrift. In this movie, it’s the Furious Five. Although they are voiced by fairly big names (Angelina Jolie as Tigress, Jackie Chan as Monkey, Seth Rogen as Mantis, Lucy Liu as Viper, and David Cross as Crane), the characters don’t really distinguish themselves."(E Perkins) Jack Black voicing Po is very strong, but the main problem is that all the attention is alaways on Jack, never really anyone else.

Po being a Panda, his colour scheme is already the same as the Yin and the Yang. This leads to Po's character right from the very beginning being portrayed as someone who stands out. He towers over all of the other characters whilst presenting himself in a way which make him seem inferior to everyone. Take that and then compare Po to what seems to be what Po wants to be, Master Shifu. Shifu is the opposite of Po, being extremely hostile and much smaller than Po one would expect Po to have the upper hand, however in this film that is not the case.

Hans Zimmer also does a wonderful job with the soundtrack, giving off an ancient china vibe in most of the music really hardens down the fact that the whole film is set in china, a particular moment where this is strong is the choosing of the dragon warrior. There is the same theme played over and over again every time a significant event happens, but the music never gets old.

After making Shrek there may not have been much that Dreamworks could have done to top it, but Kung Fu Panda visually and technically is very impressive to observe. "There’s a level of visual beauty here that’s a notch above anything DreamWorks has attempted before - a sequence where the ancient master, Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), blends with a cloud of cherry blossom is achingly gorgeous." (C Hewitt. 2015) Supposedly in this sequence, every single blossom was animated very specifically, which is quite impressive when you think about how many petals are in that sequence. Overall the film is very good, whilst it struggles from some story and casting issues the film is pretty great.


Hewitt, C. (2006) Kung Fu Panda. 
(Accessed on 7 October 2016)

Perkis, E. (2008) ‘Kung Fu Panda’. 
(Accessed on 7 October 2016)

Ebert, R. (2008) Kung Fu Panda movie review & film summary. (2008)
(Accessed on 7 October 2016)

Image Bibliography

Figure 1: 'Kung Fu Panda' (2008) Poster

Figure 2: Po

Figure 3: Master Shifu

Figure 4: Tai Lung