Kung Fu Panda, Wall-E, & more fat jokes

Garfield isn’t the only cartoon hero relentlessly mocked for his weight.

I was shocked at the continual stream of fat jokes while watching the animated hit, Kung Fu Panda. The story is about a panda, Po, who dreams of becoming a martial artist instead of a noodle seller like his father. What holds him back is his weight. The Furious Five, a pack of martial artists he idolizes– who are all male except for a token female voiced by Angelina Jolie– constantly make fun of Po’s weight. When these characters mock Po, surprisingly they retain their hero status; they are not portrayed as cruel bullies. Kids watching this movie see that it is OK and justified to put Po down for his body size. It’s espcially odd to witness teasing behavior shown as acceptable and funny, because making fun of others is a constant theme in kids movies; but it’s always potrayed as bad and wrong, acted out by the villians, not the good guys. Unless, I guess, the teasing is focused on fatness. Then it’s OK, just funny and true. Po’s teacher, Si Fun, constantly beats him up to convince him to quit his training, because he’s too fat to succeed. This prediction seems justified also.

In one scene, Po explains that the brutal training and beatings he suffers are mild compared to the pain

he experiences every day “just being me.” Then he looks down sadly at his big stomach, equating “me” with his body size, obviously  feeling a lot of shame.

Po explains that when he’s upset, he eats. The turning point in his training comes when Si Fun realizes that Po can be motivated to perform amazing acrobatic feats by a jar of cookies on a high shelf. They begin to train with food as a reward. Po does pushups over hot coals while trying to slurp noodles from a bowl of soup. Po and Si Fun battle over a bowl of dumplings. It’s good, I guess, that Po doesn’t end up becoming thin in order to be a master. But the way this movie uses fat and food to advance its plot line and character development  is truly odd and confusing if you’ve taught your kids– as I have–  not to experience food as a reward and not to think fat people are bad, or to be made fun of, or that they are not as good as thin people. After about two hours of fat jokes, my kids came out of the movie with lots of questions about why being big is funny and bad why don’t I think so too?

Another popular  animated movie, Wall-E (also named for its star male character) has a central plot line where the fat aliens are mocked. The aliens have evolved into an existence where machines do everything for them. They are fat, lazy, and nasty. Lucy asked me during the movie, “Why do they all look like that?” I guess I was supposed to say, “because they don’t get exercise. They’re lazy.”  The message that fat people lie around all day and that if you don’t work out, you will look like a fat, pink alien is not something I want my daughter to learn. She’s six years old. I’d rather her do the monkey bars and play soccer because she loves it and it’s fun. I’d like my girls to learn to use their bodies out of joy and pleasure, not fear, for as long as possible– their whole lives?

11 thoughts on “Kung Fu Panda, Wall-E, & more fat jokes

  1. I agree that the anti-fat message has been pressed onto the frame of mind for people of all ages. Occurring over and over again through either from literature all the way to the media. These messages can and probably will affect many viewers especially younger ones. Although it is true focusing highly on some stereotypical forms of being big is not such a good idea. These instances depend on the situation. Some people are big because of genetics, but some are not. Of course it is not always relatively true that thin people are not lazy or they eat healthy, etc. However, the human population has gained substantially from previous decades as pointed out through many statistics.



    Although it does not justify such jokes, the point is, the movie was focused on such a point of reference for its comedial act. If one was to read into the plot, that entire movie, “Kungfu Panda” revolves around the idea. Although I agree that some jokes may effect our viewers views and also actions. Sometimes knowing these things early may also help in their development and thinking as well. This is because, even if people do not like the thought of it. Many people who are big is because of certain environmental stimulus and habitual stimulus and not more so because of their human genome. This does not mean realizing such differences is bad because sometimes being big caused by environmental stimulus is not the best because of increases in problems for health. This then brings us to Wall-E. I do understand slightly why people are mad because the image of being big = lazy in that movie. However, statistically, it is usually a given that when you eat a lot, when you do not do anything about it
    and neglect your health and your nutritional values. One usually would become unhealthy and usually is shown physically as being bigger. True unhealthy people can be skinny and those who are lazy and eat a lot can still be skinny, but overall. It is both known scientifically through both experimentation and also observation that such occurrences occur more frequent then the chances of doing all that and still be skinny. This then makes it easier to establish the connection that being big means being unhealthy.

    In a way, ones point of view is basically saying that no, it is possible that skinny people can also be lazy and unhealthy, so they should not do it. But this is saying the almost impossible because movies use stereotypes many of the time. Think of when they want to depict someone as being dirty, you would put him in rags make him have smut on him, etc. So would one get offended if one looks like that and say that he is actually clean and all the smut is make up? The actors in the movie who dresses up as someone who is dirty, clearly is not because its make up. So they are not allowed to make jokes then? It is true, these “stereotypes” influence, but “stereotypes” are basically human’s safety response. They learned of it from some source in order to use it for themselves. If you’ve never been hit by a gun, how do you know it hurts? Because you’ve experienced pain and technically that means it’s a stereotype that the gun will hurt you. This is because, say if someone who does get shot has a defeciency in feeling, then they would never feel that pain. All this is relative, I understand some points of your views. However, once you talked about Wall-E, I found it hard to not judge and able to swallow. One point is because there are instances when information mentioned was incomplete (incorrect). I believe one should be more accepting to the fact that. Life in avoiding stereotypes is not completely feasible. Life is made of stereotypes. Love, what is love? Oh this is love on TV, so this happening must be love. Oh bad grades, means I didn’t work hard. But some who work hard also gets bad grades. There are so many things one can argue about. Why? because everything stereotypical which means basically everything you’ve never experienced and yet know of a possible response is basically stereotypical. That is a lot. Scuba diving, how you know in such a low depth there has to be water? Maybe there is not? How you know some certain country exists? It’s on the map, someone said so, it’s in books and internet. But really you think something like Africa exists, because you believed in something. You didn’t even see it. Africa was an example of a place, if you’ve been there then say Antarctica. But you understand my point. Kungfu Panda has used excessive remarks but Wall-E has gone a little overboard, they do not completely make fun of anything like that. It is statistically in reality a possibility for it to occur if you do what they did. You who do not want to believe in it, naturally, believe in it. You know, if you eat 10 tubs of ice cream in 1 hr, you will most naturally gain some sort of weight. Understanding that, understand that humans are limited and we do need these stereotypes in order to live and protect ourselves in certain situations. ~Thank you

    • Ok, I have to correct something here. Your definition of “stereotype” is more than a little inaccurate. A stereotype isn’t just anything you haven’t personally seen or experienced. Dictionary definitions of the word (always a good place to start):

      1. A metal printing plate cast from a matrix that is molded from a raised printing surface, such as type.
      2. A conventional, formulaic, and usually oversimplified conception, opinion or belief.
      3. A person, group, event or issue considered to typify or conform to an unvarying pattern or manner, lacking any individuality.

      Stereotypes have little to do with actual *facts*, which are much of what you are referring to in your comment above (that Africa is a geographic location is, currently, a fact and will remain so until the name is changed or the place ceases to exist through some geologic event). A stereotype is something like “men never pick up their socks”. While the truth of this statement may be questionable, it is a stereotype that we see frequently in media. The one in question in the post above is “fat people eat too much, are out of shape and are lazy”. Again, the truth of this may be questionable, but it’s frequently found in media.

      So what is not a stereotype? Well, as was previously stated, facts are not stereotypes. We know that there really is water from the surface of the ocean to as far down as we can send submersibles, which is remarkably far today and much farther than we can dive. That’s a fact, not a stereotype. The idea about the gun causing pain is another one. That being shot by a gun causes pain is not a stereotype – it’s a qualified fact. It is true, but specific instances can modify the effect. You can actually scientifically trace how pain works – there are ways to “see” it happening. So yes, there are ways that in a specific instance a person might not feel pain, but that does not mean that the biological trigger that would cause the pain doesn’t happen just the same. The effect is the same, it just doesn’t necessarily manifest the same. It still isn’t a stereotype – it’s biology.

  2. I had a similar reaction to Wall-E when we got a picture book version of the story before we saw the movie. I didn’t want my kids to see people as being helpless in the inevitable destruction of the earth and also be unable to control their own destinies. The movie was better that I thought in that the people ultimately reject the momentum of their course of action and force fundamental change.

    The “fat people are lazy and bad” thing does seem to be a last refuge for easy jokes. Certainly the same kind of jokes we see now about larger body sizes would not be well-received if made about skin color or sex.

    But I didn’t think Wall-E went down that kind of path until I read your post, which caused me to think about it. Maybe it’s because there weren’t any verbalized, crass fatty jokes. The story might have worked the same if the people were varying body sizes. I guess I thought making the people puffy symbolized their easy, pre-determined, non-resistance, lives. The message I took from the visual cue was that the people were ‘soft’ more than ‘fat’ because the machines did everything for them, and they had nothing to challenge them at any level. And they were all the same size, which indicated it was a across the board issue; not that the big people were especially lazy and/or stupid and there were not-so-big people who were smarter and made fun of the larger ones.

    But that’s a pretty fine point for children who just see big people not able to walk.

  3. I agree with you on how prevalent the anti-fat message is in pretty much everything these days, but I did want to correct one thing. There are actually two female members of the “Furious Five” – the Tiger and the Snake (can’t remember their names). Both have distinctly female voices and are referred to with female pronouns throughout the movie.

    In Wall-E, the humans (they aren’t aliens, they’re us in the far future), are fat because their body mass has changed in the altered gravity of their space ship. That’s actually accurate science. One small scene explains it in the movie (it’s in the captain’s cabin and the computer shows him diagrams and explains it to him), but it’s a real phenomenon. It was probably exaggerated for the movie, but no one has actually lived in such an environment for that long, so I’m not sure we actually do know how extreme the effect would be. It is suggested that they were provided with equipment to help combat the effect, but also shown that the “company” that sponsored the ship actively discouraged them from using any of the equipment. It’s using the science to also comment on the mentality of corporations.

    • First of all– is that Ozma of Oz as your photo? How cool!

      Thanks for the info about the snake– that makes 2 out 5 females in that gang, a male star and a male master. I’ll research the snake, who voiced her, and update.

      The excuse of the altered gravity is pretty lame, an excuse for fat jokes. I do remember them all flotaing around on mats and pushing buttons, Jeston-like, they could’ve had them doing non-gravity action moves.

      Thanks for your comments,

      • Yes, my icon is Ozma. I’m glad you recognized her! I’m sad at how few people do these days.

        I don’t think the altered gravity is an excuse or lame and there was an explanation in the movie for why they were floating around on chairs pushing buttons and not exercising. If you remember, this was a corporate-sponsored ship. It was also run by a computer designed and programmed by that corporation. The ship had been built with adequate exercise facilities (we saw them in a panning shot during a promo video made before the ship launched), including swimming pools (which you could see frequently in the movie). But the computer didn’t allow the people on the ship to use them. We have no idea in the movie if this was ever a point of contention or not, but clearly the computer has worked hard to make the people on the ship forget they are even there. Remember when the computer yells at the characters for dipping their toes in the pool? Presumably (given the way the corporate climate in the ship works), people weren’t viewing enough advertisements and buying enough random stuff when they were exercising or in the pool. And without access to those things, they had no way of combating the loss of bone density and becoming effectively immobile. It was pretty clear that it wasn’t their fault that they didn’t exercise – they were punished the moment they tried to do anything. It was far more anti-corporation and anti-consumerism than anti-fat.

          • Now that is a different issue, and one that is definitely worth considering. It is definitely something that can be seen from Wall-E. But I think consumerism is totally different from the lazy/overeating thing – since it also encompasses shopping for other things (they also all change the color of their clothing because the computer tells them the hip new color is blue or red or whatever color it feels like this week). It’s not necessarily any less objectionable, but it is different from what we see in Kung Fu Panda (and many other media sources).

  4. You are completely right about how the five belittle Po for being fat while nonethless retaining their hero status. The crazy thing is that insight of yours barely registered for me while I was watching the movie because mocking fat is so normalized. I think fatphobia really is the last acceptable prejudice. I have so many friends who consider themselves progressive and would be appalled to witness or articulate any kind of homophobia/ racism/ you-name-it bigotry, but don’t think twice about believing the very things you’re talking about– that to be fat connotes bad values, laziness, weakness, moral laxitude.

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