Kung Fu Panda

Disney makes a lot of great movies for families. Growing up, my friends and I learned a lot from Disney films like never giving up. In fact, I think most parents relied on Disney to teach their children about life– you know, things that are awkward for adults to explain.

Like.. where do babies come from?

Like.. where do babies come from?

Anyways, Disney does a fine job demonstrating life principles and moral concepts. But, what about the idea of death?

Truthfully, Disney is not the greatest presenter of death. Most beloved Disney movies have violent depictions of death. These movie titles include: The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Bambi, Tarzan, and The Incredibles. In Tarzan, for example, the villian Clayton entangles himself in a mass of vines in an attempt to kill Tarzan for thwarting his plans. Clayton slashes away mindlessly with a machete to free himself. Unknowingly, a vine ropes around his neck like a noose and kills him. His hanging body could be seen swaying as a shadow against a tree. Such image misleads children to believe that all death is horrific. The fact that Clayton’s death is covered up and shown as a shadow conveys the idea that death is taboo and it should not be embraced. The images support the idea that America is a “death denying culture”.

But death should not be seen as scary. And not all deaths occur as tragic accidents (unless you are in a Final Destination movie).

A kid-friendly movie which depicts death in a more helpful way is Kung Fu Panda (Sorry, Disney fans.)

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In the movie, the death of the wise Master Oogway (it means “tortoise” in Chinese) is metaphorically represented, which opposes other literal approaches. In the scene, Master Oogway announces, “My time has come”, which shows a personal acceptance of his fate. This acceptance shows the younger audience that death will happen to everybody and that it should be embraced.

Master Oogway used the peach seed as a metaphor for the cycle of life and the eventual coming of death. One can not force the peach seed to grow on its own; likewise, you cannot force death to stop, because it is not something you can control.

Before Master Oogway ascends in the form of flower petals, he gives Master Shi Fu  his cane. This represents the leaving of physical materials once one dies (Fun fact: “Shi Fu” means, “master” in Chinese, so his name is “Master Master”!) The movie shows death to be peaceful. Although it is not a clear physical explanation of death, the emotional approach to death is well-explained here.

Do you think cartoon films with dramatic deaths are better for kids? Or do you think the ideal, normal types of death would be more beneficial for children? Maybe neither? Tell me why!

Here is the clip of Master Oogway’s gentle passing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lE1_q754Xxk


10 thoughts on “Kung Fu Panda

  1. I think you are right when saying that Disney teaches kids a lot of things that might be weird or difficult for parents to talk about. But do you think this is beneficial for kids? I remember the beloved Lion King and Tarzan, but I also remember being traumatized by the deaths in such movies. So I think that parents should be a bigger part of socializing kids towards death. Of course, as kids we do not entirely understand what death is (like a family member) but have a better understanding when it is one of our favorite cartoon characters. For example, I went to a funeral in West Virginia when I was in second grade, but I did not know exactly how to feel and understand what was going on, but when Mufasa died….oh lord, bring on the tissues. I actually remember fast forwarding past that part in the movie. Anyways, yes Disney does better with moral concepts than explaining actual death.

  2. All statements that you presented are very true but the fact that some of Disney’s movies depict a dark side to death is not necessarily all bad depiction as long as a child does not become traumatized because in reality we all know now that death is not always pretty. Yes, it is important for us not to scare or traumatize our children but in many cases I believe we cannot always buffer out the ugly side of tragic deadly events. When Kung Fu panda came out I believe I was just as or more so excited as the children to whom it attended to. The death portrayed in this movies was a very serene depiction which I always loved especially since that it included many realities in life to which you stated. Great choice and I am glad that you chose this movie because when I get time this is the next movie that I’m watching. On blu-ray!

  3. Although I agree that Disney does make death unbelievably overdramatic, I don’t think that they are denying death. If anything they enforcing the idea into the viewer’s mind in the most extreme and dramatic way possible. Although in normal circumstances death is a much calmer event, such extreme examples portray the possibility of extreme death in life. Disney should try and show normal deaths but the extreme deaths still introduce the idea of death albeit in a dramatic fashion. I do agree with your point about Kung Fu Panda. The death of Oogway is such a peaceful moment and it is an absolute wonderful introduction to the concept of death. His death is a very good representation of the realities of death and properly introduces the fact that once dead there is no coming back from that. Good post.

  4. I actually think “The Lion King” presents a good, almost real life example of how death can occur, and kids deal with it. A lot of people die from accidents, which what Simba thought happened to his dad, and it can be very difficult for kids to deal or even understand the sudden departure of a parent. Although most of the of time, in a real life situation, a kid will not witness the death of his/her father, his/her reaction however will almost always reflect that of Simba. Also, I wonder to what extent kids actually take seriously the portrayal of death in cartoons.

  5. Its true how some Disney moves have scary, even horrific deaths of the characters. I remember watching Clayton die in the Tarzan movie feeling sort of horrified, I even had a nightmare that night! I’m sure I wasn’t the only child that felt that way watching that movie. I believe these kinds of scenes have the potential to make children fear death. But in Kung Fu Panda, it showed many viewers, mainly children, that dying doesn’t have to be so scary. The way that Master Oogway drifts away in those pink flowers makes death seem really beautiful, and peaceful; and I think that is the very point this movie was trying to get across to the society. I believe that the people in our society that do fear death, especially children in this case, can learn a lesson from this scene and maybe realize that death doesn’t have to be so scary after all.

  6. I liked the way you used Disney movies to distinguish the good and bad types of death that occur in these movies. You picked out great examples by using the movies Tarzan and Kung Fu Panda. They both did distinguish what a horrific death is like and normal type of death is like. I agree with you that kids should not always think that watching movies like Tarzan with a death seen of a man hanging that all death scenes will be horrific. That’s not the right way we want kids to learn about death and dying. I think the way in Kung Fu Panda where Master Ooogay dies is the best scenes for children to watch and that they know that there are different ways that one can die. Some may be scary and some may be that their “time has come”.

  7. Even though Disney movies can portray horrific deaths, they also have a variety of deaths that are presented which I think indirectly teaches children that not all death s horrifying and terrible. Especailly in your example of Kung Fu Panda which I also agree is the best way a children’s movie could portray that. I personally think that the variety of deaths shown to kids is a good teacher instead of just one type because it gives kids a more realistic way about looking at death without being completely dark about the subject and too direct. Looking at the Lion King for example, Mufasa was killed by his brother which was sad and a dark type of death but on the other hand, later in the movie we meet Rafiki and he presents the idea that our loved ones live on. In this sense, there are multiple aspects being taught.

  8. Hi everyone!

    Thanks for your lovely comments. I didn’t think I would get this many responses. This makes me feel really giddy. 🙂

    I noticed that most of you disagreed with my statement on how the Disney movie examples did not support the idea that America is a “death-denying culture”. I’m sorry I wasn’t very clear with my post, but with the limited word count, I couldn’t elaborate on every example. Let me explain my view.

    I have a couple of reasons why I chose those specific Disney movies.
    First of all, the way the main character dealt with the death of the other characters was a concern. In life, sometimes we blame ourselves for someone’s death when it clearly wasn’t controllable. For example, in The Lion King, Simba becomes devastated when Uncle Scar (Gotta love his charm) blames Simba for his father’s death. Being the little cub that he was, he believed he killed his father. Although blaming ourselves for someone’s passing may occur, this behavior should not be presented nor adopted. It’s simply not true (Unless you actually did commit murder..Eek)! Simba’s reaction promoted an unhealthy way of handling death. Additionally, Simba runs away from his homeland. We resist death. We don’t like death. Death is scary. So, rather with dealing it head-on, the movie showed Simba escaping the death event. He is compelled to become normal again and, hence, he is defying death.

    Lastly, most of the characters who died, ended so dramatically! Unfortunately, sometimes people do pass away tragically. So, I am not promoting us to be softies and hide all things bloody and gory from kids! What I’m not so happy about is the failure to diversify the different ways people die in the Disney movies. That is worrisome, because it leads children to develop irrational fears about death. These fears then transform into false impressions about death — like expecting to die only under severely super scary events (like a meteor shower). I am fine with the dramatizations, but there are surprisingly very few cartoon movies which elaborate on the “normalness” of death. I believe that kids should be exposed to realistic interpretations of death and be opened to the many different ways people die. Perhaps then we wouldn’t be so paranoid!

    -Mi (Wow, I end up writing so much..)

  9. Growing up Disney cartoons were the only ones allowed to play on our telly for a very long time. I agree with you in that a lot of parents turn to Disney when situations get a little awkward for them to explain, as well as Disney deaths being a little tragic, however death isn’t exactly pleasant and to portray it in a peaceful way would be sugar coating it, which dose not allow us room to accept it when it happens, because in our thoughts we feel like ” Oh my god, this isn’t how it supposed to feel thats not what they taught us !”

    The media is very influencial when it comes to delivering messages to its audience both children and adults. Kung-Fu Panda does deliver the process of death in a better manner, i still feel that there needs to be some real truth when delivering the message, a perfect example would be Lion King, i’m sure there were a large number of children and adults that shed tears during that scene, and that is what death is about. Sorrow, anger, grief, regret never a bed of roses. Even when death is a positive its still negative for those who are suffering the loss of a loved one.

  10. Growing up I watched Disney movies all the time and like so many other people I didn’t always see the message until later on. It is the same for the death scenes: I knew that Mufasa died in the Lion King but now that I think about it, having your brother throw you off the side of a cliff just to get trampled is a horrible way to die. Your right, a good handful of kid movies are like that and we have to teach our kids that everything does not come to a violent end (somethings may, but not everything). I wouldn’t say that all the deaths in kid movies have to be all cute and nice like the wife in “UP”, but they should definitely diversify the death scenes that they depict in their movies. Kid movies are a good way to get kids on the right track about death, but only if their done the right way.

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