It’s no exaggeration to refer to the Kung Fu Panda movies as masterpieces of cinema and storytelling. Created by Dreamworks Animation, these movies follow the journey of Po, an overweight Panda, who is suddenly chosen as the legendary Dragon Warrior of the Valley of Peace. His task? To protect everyone there.
All the characters in these movies are animals. Po’s friends-in-arms – the Furious Five – are Tigress, Viper, Monkey, Mantis, and Crane, which is self-explanatory. Po’s (adopted) dad, Mr. Ping, is a goose. The villain in the first film, Tai Lung, is a snow leopard, while the villain in the second film, Lord Shen, is an albino peacock, and Kai, the villain in film three, is a yak.
Po’s master is Master Shifu, and Shifu’s teacher is Master Oogway, a turtle. However, there was some confusion surrounding Master Shifu – exactly what kind of animal is Master Shifu?
1. Kung Fu Panda Movies
The Kungfu Panda movies are, hands down, one of the most brilliantly written, directed, animated, and voiced Dreamworks animation movies out there.
From the voice acting to the fight scene choreographies, the characters themselves, their development arcs, and the well-written script filled with perfect comedic moments, these movies gave the audience much more than they thought they’d get. But many people in the audience thought Master Shifu was either a raccoon, a tiny wolf, a dog, or a lemur. All of these were wrong.
1.1 The Plot
The first film introduces us to all the main characters. Po is Mr. Ping’s adopted son. His Father runs a noodle store called Mr. Ping’s Noodle Shop and is dedicated to his work. He wants to take over and carry on the business in the future. However, Po is dissatisfied with this life. He is also fascinated with, and wants to learn, Kung Fu and idolizes the Furious Five, the current masters of Kung Fu.
(i) Fun Fact:
Each Furious Five was created and named after 5 of the many different styles of Kung Fu
One day, a ceremony is held in which Master Oogway chooses a Dragon Warrior, a hero of Kung Fu, who is to receive the Dragon Scroll. This would give the warriors great power, which would help in their duty to protect the Valley of Peace. In a strange turn of events, Po is chosen as the Dragon Warrior when his attempts to enter the ceremony as part of the audience throw him right into the center of the stage.
Master Shifu is then assigned to train Po, but due to his prejudices and his anger at the fact that none of the Five students he taught were chosen, he decides to make Po’s training so tricky that he will have no choice but to quit.
Eventually, Master Shifu realizes the error of his thinking and begins training Po in a manner more designed for his strengths (His motivation was food. Relatable, huh?). With Shifu’s help, Po can finally defeat Tai Lung and save the Valley of Peace in the first film. In the second, Po’s enemy is Lord Shen, who had attacked Po’s former village many years ago. In the third film, Po defeats Kai, a former brother-in-arms of Master Oogway himself.
1.2 Master Shifu
Before we find out what kind of animal Master Shifu is, let’s first understand Shifu’s character. And no, Shifu isn’t a rodent or a marsupial.
Although Shifu is a supporting character in the Kung Fu Panda movies, he’s very important, especially in the first film. Voiced by Dustin Hoffman, besides being one of the many great Kung Fu Masters, Shifu is also considered the spiritual leader of the Valley.
(i) How He Looks
Shifu is a small animal with big ears and a bushy tail. His fur has white, red, and dark brown colors.
He also has blue eyes, a white beard, and a mustache, a nice touch to his characterization.
In the movies, he is generally seen wearing a reddish burgundy robe (brownish red, orange-brown, whatever) and black pants. In the first film, that is paired with a brown sash around his waist, and in the next two, a jade green shawl is tied across one shoulder with a golden clasp.
(ii) His Background Story
As a child, Shifu would travel to various towns and villages with his Father, Shirong, a con artist. His Father’s main business was to sell fake amulets to the people in these places. One day, Shirong left Shifu at the Jade Palace, promising to return soon, but never did. Master Oogway found him and took him in as his student.
He became part of the former Furious Five, along with Rooster, Elephant, Snow Leopard, and an owl, but they disbanded after the owl turned evil and was defeated by Oogway.
In the first movie, we learn that the antagonist, Tai Lung, was Master Shifu’s former student. Shifu eventually became a powerful kung fu master, and his first student was Tai Lung. He found Tai Lung abandoned near the Palace soon after becoming a master, so he took him in and cared for him as a father and a kung fu teacher.
Shifu grew to love Tai Lung greatly and saw in him the potential to become the legendary Dragon Warrior. He also trained his students to take on that role, causing him to become too proud. Master Oogway saw darkness in Tai Lung and refused him as the dragon warrior.
(iii) His Role
a. Kung Fu Panda 1
In particular, Shifu is an important character in the first Kung Fu Panda movie, so much so that the entire movie is a direct consequence of Shifu’s actions and decisions, both in the past and future.
For one, Tai Lung became the villain due to Shifu’s actions. When Oogway refused to make Tai Lung the dragon warrior, Shifu said nothing to defend his student. This and all the false hope that Shifu had given Tai Lung created the movie’s villain.
In the first movie, he sees a vision of Tai Lung escaping from his prison, stealing the scroll of the dragon warrior, and destroying the Valley of Peace as revenge. Shifu’s actions in trying to ensure that Tai Lung doesn’t escape the very thing that helps Tai Lung escape. Master Shifu sends a bird to tell the Chorh-Gom Prison to tighten its security. This prison was constructed specifically to hold only Tai Lung. A single feather of that bird falls into the pit where Tai Lung is chained, and he uses it to unlock himself, leading to him breaking out of the prison.
When Po is chosen as the dragon warrior, it is clear that Shifu is the only kung fu master who can teach Po. However, he is angry that none of his students were selected and blames Po. He is also prejudiced and doesn’t believe that Po will be able to become the dragon warrior. He makes training deliberately too hard for Po to handle, with the hope that Po will quit.
Fortunately, Master Shifu overcame his prejudices and realized that he could not train Po in the same manner as he and the Furious Five. He figures out that training Po requires motivating him with food. This training allows Po to master his Kung Fu style and defeat Tai Lung. He even uses the Wuxi Finger Hold, a special technique of Master Shifu’s, against Tai Lung.
b. Kung Fu Panda 2
In the second movie, Po’s foe is Lord Shen, who causes Po to question his identity and lose confidence in himself. Once again, the training and advice Shifu gave Po about attaining Inner Peace helped Po defeat Shen.
Shifu receives news about how a weapon made by Lord Shen killed Master Thundering Rhino to destroy Kung Fu. He wants Po and the Furious Five to destroy it at Gongmen City. Po does not feel confident about this mission but is encouraged by Shifu.
In the city, Po and the Five meet the other masters, Croc and Storming Ox. However, they have already lost hope and do not wish to fight against Shen, forcing Po and his friends to take on Shen without backup. When Po is thrown backward by the weapon She uses, Shifu is seen to sense that something is not right. He shows up to help Po and the Five, along with masters Croc and Storming Ox, whom he convinced to join the cause when Po could not.
Ultimately, he watches Po defeat Shen after attaining inner Peace and congratulates him.
c. Kung Fu Panda 3
By the start of the third film, Shifu decides to retire as a Master’s and gives the position to Po. Po’s first day as a teacher does not go well, but Shifu is again there to encourage and guide him.
The villain in this movie turns out to be Kai, who used to be part of the former Furious Five with Oogway. Kai figures out how to steal Chi from others and make himself more powerful by also being able to control a Jade Zombie of that person. Oogway and flees initially defeat him. Kai can now only be defeated by a true master of Chi.
While Shifu can learn to master Chi, he admits it will take too long for him to do so. Meanwhile, Po finally finds his biological family. Po’s biological Father says that all Giant Pandas know the ancient Chi technique and will teach Po if he agrees to learn how to live like a Panda. Again, Po accepts after encouragement from Shifu.
Shifu’s opinions and choices are valued by the Dragon Warrior, Po, the Furious Five, other Kung Fu Masters, and all the citizens.
2. So, What Kind of Animal is Master Shifu?
When the first movie from the Kung Fu Panda franchise came out, much of the audience was confused about what kind of animal is Master Shifu. Many thought he was either a raccoon, a fox, a lemur (like the ones from Madagascar – think King Julian), a small wolf or dog, some rodent or marsupial, or a raccoon dog. All of them were wrong.
Even Dustin Hoffman, the voice actor of Shifu, wasn’t entirely sure about what kind of animal Master Shifu was. And when he did find out what animal Master Shifu was, he admitted that he didn’t know much about it.
Here’s the answer – Master Shifu is a Red Panda.
And no, a Red Panda has no connection to the Giant Panda that we all know and love – the same black and white Panda Po is. The Red Panda does not belong to the same species as a Giant Panda.
2.1 How to Identify a Red Panda
Now that we know what kind of animal Master Shifu is let’s look at its physical characteristics and see if it matches with Shifu.
A Red Panda is a small animal, about the same size or a little larger than a domestic cat. It has reddish-brown fur, even on its face. It has large pointy ears that are edged with white. The sides of its face and the space above its small, round eyes are also white.
Another distinctive feature of the Red Panda is its bushy tail, ringed with red, brown, and white fur. However, the belly and the limbs of this cute critter are black.
3. Facts About the Red Panda
Now that we know what kind of animal Master Shifu is – a Red Panda – the next question is, what is a red panda? You might not know about it even if you’ve heard of it. These facts are sure to make you something of an expert about the red panda. Or at least more knowledgeable than the average human.
3.1 Some Technical Facts
- The formal and scientific name of the Red Panda is Ailurus fulgens, which doesn’t sound as cute now.
- The animal is native to the regions of Eastern Himalayas and South-Western China.
- While their diet is technically omnivorous, they eat mostly bamboo.
- They start reproducing around 18 months of age.
- A female panda will give birth to four cubs, who are born blind and deaf after a gestation period of about 112-158 years.
- A red panda can live for approximately 8-10 years, but a few have been known to live a little longer.
- At first, it was thought there were two sub-species, but it has now been confirmed that there are two separate species – the Himalayan Red Panda and the Chinese Red Panda. The latter is slightly larger, and the rings on its tail are more pronounced.
3.2 Some Fun Facts
- While they mainly eat bamboo, they can eat fruits, insects, eggs, acorns, and sometimes small birds and rodents.
- Due to their distinctive features, red pandas are also sometimes called the lesser panda and the red bear cat.
- The red panda is not related to bears, giant pandas, or raccoons but is the only known animal of its genus.
- These little animals are very acrobatic and spend most of their time on trees. They use their bushy tails for balance and to cover themselves for warmth in the winter. They also have sharp claws and flexible ankles, perfect for scurrying around on trees.
- The Chinese call this critter “hun-ho,” meaning “Firefox.” (The more you know!)
- These pandas have glands at the base of their tails through which they can release a sharp, acrid liquid. This helps both when threatened and when males mark their territory.
- They’re named the Red Panda, even though they have no relation to the Giant Panda because the word panda originates from the word “pony” in Nepali, which refers to a bamboo (or plant) eating animal.
3.3 Some Not-So-Fun Facts
- Their main predators are jackals and snow leopards (Tai Lung, remember?). But they’re not easily spotted by these predators due to the excellent camouflage provided by their fur. They can also escape quickly onto trees when spotted.
- The estimated wild red pandas population is about 10,000, maybe even less.
- However, this population is decreasing due to poaching, destruction, loss of habitat, rise in temperatures, and change in rainfall patterns due to climate change, deforestation, accidental killings in traps meant for other animals, and even inbreeding depression.
- Due to this, the red pandas are listed as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List (International Union for the Conservation of Nature).
(i) What You Can Do to Help
The WWF (World Wildlife Fund) is taking several measures to help preserve the red panda population. This includes working with the community of those areas to stop human activities that damage the ecosystem by providing alternate means of generating income and finding different sources of fuel instead of forest wood. There’s also the punishment of fines or imprisonment imposed on those caught buying, selling, or killing red pandas. Another step to creating attractive tourism packages is increasing the area’s income and raising awareness.
For people further away, the WWF has started a system of adopting a panda, where you get a symbolic red panda. The money you donate becomes part of a fund to help conserve these adorable animals.
4. Similarities between Master Shifu and the Red Panda
Hopefully, this answers your question about what kind of animal Master Shifu is. He’s a red panda. Any of you might point out that his face is more white than red, but his large ears, bushy tail, and black limbs are a dead giveaway. And sure, the face might not be entirely accurate, but to be fair, these are films about anthropomorphic animals, and Shifu had a beard and mustache, so let’s not get too hung up on that.
You might also want to focus on Shifu’s animation and fighting style, and you’ll be awed at how Kung Fu Panda’s creators brought out the red panda’s skill set.
For one, we know that these pandas are very agile and acrobatic. They also possess great balance, which their tails help with, and are nimble and sure-footed.
We also know that Master Shifu is a pro at balance. His fighting style is fast, and he uses minimal movements to create a large impact. Another quirk of Shifu’s is that he can disappear and appear out of nowhere. That means he’s small and quick, exactly like a red panda. The creators added some martial arts to exaggerate the red panda’s swift, light, and flexible skills and created a character we all have grown to love – Master Shifu.
Here’s a great, short video covering all you need to know about these red cat bears!