Tell me these movies are just dumb comedies. Tell me Po is just a stupid Panda. Tell me. I will fight you.
Kung Fu Panda is about a character with legitimate low self esteem issues who is mocked and ridiculed by the people he looks up to. No matter how hard he trains, he doesn’t believe in himself until he discoverers that there is no “secret ingredient” that will make him great, because HE is what makes himself great.
Po: There is no secret ingredient. It’s just you.
Oh my everlasting Primus, THIS.
This scene right here hit me like a punch to the gut. I thought I was gonna start crying in the theater, because that was ME up there. Someone, whoever wrote those lines, understood what it felt like. To go through life fat and clumsy, a walking punchline. To not know what pretty or strong or popular or good at something even feels like, and what other conclusion can you come to but that you are worthless?
Until… Shifu gets his head out of his ass, turns his thinking around, and starts training Po in ways that are useful to Po. Until Po finally gets the chance to apply the passion he’s always had and the kung-fu-nerdery he’s been amassing since he was little. Until Po becomes a master in his own time, in his own way, and saves the world without having to lose a single ounce to do it.
That was the second punch to the gut for me. Po doesn’t slim down and become buff. He still gets out of breath climbing stairs. He’s a giant awkward nerdapalooza and he’s pretty much always hungry. He’s still the same fat kid he always was, and the change, the miracle, is that that’s okay. He doesn’t have to not be a fat kid in order to be worthy.
I don’t know why Kung Fu Panda doesn’t get more love than it does. It should be our banner, y’all.
Kung Fu Panda was one of the first movies I EVER saw where the main character was fat and clumsy and awkward, basically a giant dork, but those things weren’t changed or gotten rid of during his hero quest. No one took him seriously because of them—not even himself—but it turns out that all the things about himself he was always embarrassed about did more to make him a hero and an essentially good person than training with the most skilled practitioners of martial arts in the country ever did. Normally, the fat or awkward or dorky protagonists turn out completely different by the end, at least in appearances if not personality.
When KFP came out I was still very insecure about my weight and my personality. I’ve been chubby, awkward and nerdy since my childhood, and I’d tried everything to fit in with other people—from karate classes and straightening my hair to desperately vying for popularity. But from the start of this movie, I LOVED Po, and I identified more with him than I have with any other character. And watching this scene, and all the other scenes afterwards, watching Po and everyone around him realize that he was strong and brave and good exactly the way he was, I realized the same about myself. That’s an important lesson for EVERYONE, regardless of age.