How ‘Kung Fu Panda’ got its climax right
Updated: Dec 19, 2021
Plus, a template you can use for your own
If you ask me about my favourite movie climax, it has to be the one in Kung Fu Panda hands-down.
The movie has a simple plot, in line with its animation format and family-and-children audiences.
Yet, the film is so powerful that you can’t stop bingeing on it again and again. (It’s available on Netflix now.)
There are so many takeaways lurking inside its layers that they deserve a separate blog post of their own.
For now, I’d like to focus on the most exciting part of the film: its climax.
True to its meaning of the final, nail-biting showdown between the protagonist and the antagonist, the climax, in this case, revolves around the epic fight between the childlike but street-smart panda Po and the ruthless leopard Tai Lung.
Obviously, it’s the tensest and most exciting part of the film, which, as per its definition, occurs around the film’s 90-percent-mark. We want to know whether Po wins this one or not.
Okay, we know Po’s going to win this one—no spoilers here. He’s the titular character of Kung Fu Panda, after all, and the story’s protagonist.
The only question that burns inside us is how.
The scene then beautifully unravels the answer to this heart-racing question.
I broke down this scene so I can understand its structure better and apply it to my current stories, including PiKu & ViRu 2. (Buy/download, read, and review PiKu & ViRu here; it’s FREE on Kindle Unlimited.)
Needless to say, I’m having a lot of fun seeing the climaxes of my WIPs get better and better.
So, here’s a template I’ve created so you can use it to craft and structure your story climaxes. Let me know in the comments below how it works out for you.
The antagonist is doing something evil.
The protagonist shows up, and the two characters come face-to-face with each other.
The antagonist appears stronger and more powerful than the protagonist, so the viewer is afraid for our hero. Yet, the protagonist is confident they’re going to win this one. They have a hidden advantage, an unknown ace up their sleeve that they received at the beginning of Act 3, which the antagonist doesn’t. The viewer has just a faint idea about what this advantage is, and that’s why they worry for our hero’s safety and well-being.
The protagonist plays their move, kick-starting the most edge-of-the-seat and popcorn-worthy part of the story.
The antagonist fights back, thinks they’ve won the game, and begins celebrating.
The protagonist then counters and snatches the round from the antagonist and completely stumps them.
We now know that the antagonist has met their match in the protagonist. The viewer cheers for the protagonist but is still worried for them. They’re sure the protagonist is going to win—they just don’t know how.
The protagonist uses all the lessons they’ve learned in their journey, plus their own talents and skills, to fight the antagonist. Unlike their previous selves, they’re smarter and more confident, with higher amounts of self-esteem.
The stunned antagonist grossly misunderstands the source of the protagonist’s newfound powers (which they received at the start of Act 3).
The protagonist, given their innate goodness, explains what this source is, but the antagonist just doesn’t get it. Even the viewer is confused, though they begin to get an idea. No other character knows about this power—the protagonist is the only one.
The antagonist underestimates the protagonist, while the protagonist exudes attitude and a positive, winning perspective of what would scare or disturb them before. The protagonist has conquered all their fears by now.
The protagonist defeats the antagonist.
The viewer either automatically understands what the protagonist’s new power is, or the protagonist provides a detailed explanation. It’s a true AHA moment for the viewer.
Even after winning the climax, the protagonist retains their goodness, innocence, humility, concern, and regard for their loved ones. The viewer gets a good glimpse of it, and that’s why their love for our hero endures.