Kung Fu Panda – Hero’s journey breakdown

Ordinary world

Po is a panda and a fan of kung fu. However, he isn’t a kung fu master he is a noodle seller.

Call to Adventure

Oogway selects him as the Dragon Warrior, the one who will receive the knowledge of the Dragon scrolls to protect the village against the return of Tai Lung

Refusal of the call

At first Po is unsure what has happened but the real refusal comes from Master Shifu and the The Furious Five who have no respect for him and decide to ridicule him into quitting.

Supernatural Aid

Shifu is Po’s mentor, the one who teaches him kung fu but interestingly in this story, the mentor also has a mentor Oogway.

Crossing the First Threshold

Po enters the palace to begin his training leaving behind the world of noodle cooking.

Belly of the whale

Po enters the training hall, gets chewed up and spat out and finishes at “Level Zero”

The Road of the trials

Po begins his kung fu training, and fails miserably. None of the Furious Five respect him.

Woman as Temptress

Tigress tells him he doesn’t belong if he has any respect for them and what they do he will be gone by morning. This is a temptation for him to leave the quest.

Meeting with the Goddess

Oogway doesn’t serve as a mentor for Po instead he serves as the Godess and gives the speech “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is gift that is why it’s called the present.” This is moment that inspires Po to continue when he feels like giving up.

Atonement with the Father

Shifu finally learns from Oogway that Po is the Dragon Warrior and he must commit to training him even though he doesn’t know how.

Death of the mentor

Oogway passes away leaving Shifu helplessly lost as he doesn’t know how to train Po


Shifu discovers the key to training Po. Sometime Apotheosis refers to the discovery of a secret, or the ability to do something which no one else can do, in this case it’s learning to use food as motivation to train Po.

Ultimate Boon

Po learns from his father what the “secret ingredient” is – Nothing, something becomes special when you believe it to be special. This is what Po needed to hear. In order for him to become special he needs to believe in himself.

The Magic flight

Tai Lung arrives demanding the Dragon scroll. Shifu is no match for him and it’s a second Death of the mentor moment all that is left is Po. Although his skills are unconventional he Tai Lung as the Dragon Warrior.

Master of two worlds

The Furious Five bow before him and call him “Master”

The crossing of the return Threshold

He returns to the Jade Palace and tells a surprised Shifu that he didn’t die and he defeated Tai Lung. He is the Dragon Warrior

Freedom to live

Shifu has attained inner peace and the valley is safe


If your heart doesn’t climb into your throat when the Furious five bow and call Po “Master” you are dead inside. I loved this film and it’s rare use of mentor of the mentor. I think it also throws up a false Ultimate Boon when Po reads the Dragon Scroll for the first time and it’s blank. Even though this is the lesson he must learn he still isn’t wise enough to understand it yet. It’s the next scene when he returns to his father’s home that it clicks.

Refusal, Death of the mentor, Atonement with the father and Apotheosis are all flipped onto Shifu even though it’s clearly Po’s story.

Rescue from without is not present in this ending. If the Furious five jumped in and gave him a moment or there was some external savior from his mentor Shifu. Or if Oogway had sent him some help from beyond the grave but it didn’t happen.


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