Just finished watching Kung Fu Panda, which I’ve been wanting to see for a while now, and I have to say, it’s a really cute movie. The writing is good; there’s an all-star cast of voice actors; the character arcs have good messages. But there’s this niggling little bit about the message that’s just begging to be deconstructed.
We have this thing about faith. I think it comes from having inherited a Christian culture but widely rejecting the faith itself within that culture. We believe in *Faith*. We take Jesus’ praise for powerful faith and derision for weak faith at face value without noticing that faith has to have an object that’s worthy of it. God likes faith because he wants us to trust him, so he sets up situations where trusting him isn’t the immediate obvious answer – otherwise it wouldn’t be faith. But here in post-Christianity, we’ve dropped the messiah bit, and we’re left with the general conviction that faith itself is some kind of power source, regardless of the object it’s connected to. And boy do we ever attach some weird objects.
And the weirdest one of all is nothing. Not the “heart in a blender” kind of nothing, but this idea that believing in itself makes the impossible real. I take the rope of faith, hook one end to myself and toss the other one up the side of an invisible precipice and **clinch!** It holds! If you believe it hard enough, it automatically becomes true.
And that, of course is the key message of “the dragon scroll.” It’s blank. There is no secret of ultimate power. You look in the reflective scroll and all you see is you. But if you **believe** in yourself, that belief itself will make you invincible.
The problem is that it’s not true. Even if I think about it every night and day, believing I can fly doesn’t make me able to touch the sky. Not only isn’t it true, they can’t even convey the message consistently in the movie. Believing in yourself apparently only works for pandas. The furious five may believe that together they can defeat Tai Lung, but believing don’t make it so. Similarly, Tai Lung may believe that he is the true Dragon Warrior, but somehow he ain’t, and I just don’t see how it could be from a lack of believing. Po the giant panda gets to believe in himself, and Shifu the red panda get’s to believe (in Po), and Oogway the turtle, because he’s infinitely wise, gets to believe whatever he wants. But ultimately, believing only really works if it’s actually true.
Just like in the real world.