Kung-Fu Panda

Inciting Event: Po the panda sees the announcement that the fabled Dragon Warrior will be chosen before the day is out. Even though viewers have already learned about the main conflict (the prophesied escape of the dangerous kung-fu master Tai Lung), this is the first time the implications of that conflict enter Po’s life. This event here is what prompts him to go the Jade Palace to see which of the Furious Five will be chosen.

First Plot Point: In a desperate bid to see the naming of the Dragon Warrior, Po launches himself over the wall of the Jade Palace on a firecracker-propelled chair. He falls right in front of Master Oogway’s pointing finger, and Master Oogway insists it was “no accident” and that the “universe has decided” Po is the Dragon Warrior. This is a clear departure from Po’s Normal World, where he was a waiter at his father’s restaurant. Now he enters the physical new world of the Jade Palace, home of Master Shifu and the Furious Five. He also enters a metaphorical new world where he is suddenly expected to become a kung-fu master himself. This launches an intense segment of reactions from both himself and from Master Shifu, who is determined to scare Po into leaving so his star pupil Tigress can be named as Tai Lung’s more appropriate opponent.

First Pinch Point: Tai Lung escapes the supposedly inescapable Chorh-Gom Prison. His presence as an antagonist in this story is an interesting one, since he never actually is a threat until this scene, a quarter of the way into the Second Act. Up until this point, it is only the characters’ fear of him that is driving the conflict. This makes him appear to viewers as a tremendously formidable opponent, despite his relatively tiny role in the actual story.

Midpoint: Just after Shifu learns of Tai Lung’s escape, Master Oogway realizes his time on earth is finished and he “ascends” in a cloud of peach blossoms, leaving Shifu to deal with the situation on his own.

This is such a beautiful and powerful scene in its own right that it’s easy to overlook the fact that it’s a major weakness within the overall story. Why? Because its focus is entirely on Shifu instead of Po. This is where Shifu reaches his important revelation about relinquishing his attempts to control life. This is where Shifu shifts from reacting to his horror that Po has been chosen Dragon Warrior and starts actively training Po instead.

Po himself, the main character, is nowhere to be seen in this scene, and as a result he never really experiences a major Moment of Truth that shifts him onto a new path.

I’ve always thought the worst part of this (otherwise great) movie is the subsequent scene in which Shifu discovers that the fat and sloppy Po can accomplish amazing physical feats when inspired by food. The reason that weak scene is there at all is because the Midpoint wasn’t allowed to fulfill its most important job of providing its protagonist with the Moment of Truth and its inherent revelation about his personal journey through the conflict.

Second Pinch Point: The Furious Five, led by Tigress, disobey Shifu’s orders in order to try to stop Tai Lung before he can reach Po. They are defeated, and Tai Lung sends them back to Shifu and Po as a warning. Warnings always make great Pinch Points, since they both offer new clues about the conflict and decidedly emphasize the stakes.

Third Plot Point: Po finally receives the Dragon Scroll that’s supposed to turn him into the Dragon Warrior—only to discover that it’s a blank metallic page that does nothing but reflect his own face. Despite his training, Po is hardly a match for Tai Lung. The Dragon Scroll’s supposed power was everyone’s last hope. Now that their hope has been dashed, they leave the Jade Palace in defeat to evacuate the valley in preparation for Tai Lung’s arrival.

Climax: After Tai Lung has defeated Shifu, Po arrives to do battle—having figured out that the Dragon Scroll’s message is that “there is no secret ingredient” and that he just needs to be himself. He battles Tai Lung using a mix of what he’s learned from Shifu and his own natural talents.

Climactic Moment: Po uses the Wuxi Finger Hold to destroy Tai Lung.

Resolution: Po is greeted as a hero by the citizens and acknowledged as a master by the Five. He then rushes back to Shifu and learns he’s not dead. Rather, he’s finally “at peace.”

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