We’ve all watched a common movie featuring an unlikely competent main character, who lives by the normal circumstances of everyday life, and by some fate becomes the leader in a rebellion, the guardian of mankind, or the face of a nation. A recurring complex evident in the movie industry is the concept of a character being the ‘chosen one’ by some fate of a series of events being connected. These characters usually break off from their unsupportive peers or relatives and develop into something bigger than they had ever imagined. Two box office hits that follow this phenomena are the six part Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and the Kung Fu Panda series directed by Mark Osborne. Harry Potter has critically acclaimed success in following the ‘chosen one’ tactic in that the series has gained attention from numerous countries, sold more than 500 million copies of books, and has topped the movie industry as one of the most revenue surging projects with the franchise totaling $25 billion (bustle.com). The successful Kung Fu Panda has also followed up with two sequels and created an animated TV series titled “Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness.” The franchise has earned well over $600 million and is looking to create another three sequels after “Kung Fu Panda 3” is released (boxofficemojo.com). It is a matter of question as to how content like Harry Potter and Kung Fu Panda are able to attract a wide array of audiences and keep them engaged for substantial period of time. The ‘chosen one’ complex is able to create a series of events that allow for prolonged development of plot and characters, attracting its audience members through this use of uncovering engaging sequences and compelling stories while also teaching lessons implicitly and explicitly.
From the beginning, we are introduced to Harry as an orphan left to be taken care of his aunt, uncle, and cousin. They are unsympathetic, distant, and spiteful. Harry is a good child and does nothing to provoke the only family he has, but they pay less mind to him and shower his cousin in love and joy. At age 11, Harry learns that he is a wizard and that the scar on his head marked him as the ‘chosen one’ because he survived an attempted murder by a powerful evil wizard. The Harry Potter series sets Harry up for a world he had no idea existed. After getting taken to wizarding school, Harry develops his character through trials and triumphs and we learn that he is the only one powerful enough to defeat the Dark Lord who had attempted to kill him as a child.
This series can follow the same event map as Kung Fu Panda, but with, of course, a different setting and plot in mind. Po, the main character, is a panda who lives with just his father, a goose named Mr. Ping. A clumsy character with aspirations to be a kung fu master, Po’s father advocates for him to instead take care of the family noodle business. While attending a kung fu tournament that was being held in order to choose who would be the legendary dragon warrior to defeat the evil Tai Lung, Po was miraculously chosen. Though he is ridiculed by his peers, Po works hard enough to prove their assumptions about him wrong. He learns valuable lessons, makes friends with his enemies, and in the end defeats the evil Tai Lung. Looking at both the Harry Potter series and Kung Fu Panda, they follow the common story line of a perceived incompetent character who later becomes the central figure to the story as a whole.
The ‘chosen one’ complex is a common movie concept in which a character and their circumstances are introduced; there are a series events that occurred prior or later that allow us to believe that this person is capable of something greater than themselves; and in the end we learn some sort of importance or lesson from how these characters applied themselves. It is easy to think of these characters as heroes and aspirations because they are everyday individuals like ourselves who deal with average problems, and by some way they are able to change their circumstances in order to develop out of their old character. This creates a “feel good” mood that audience members ranging from children to adults are able to get out of the movie.
With the ‘chosen one’ complex, there also needs to come the ‘everything is connected’ concept. The leading character does not just miraculously become the one destined to defeat the dark lord, or, by fate, become a legendary martial arts warrior. Connecting a series of events together perfectly gives the character more importance and that ‘everything was meant to be,’ allowing the audience to invest into the character’s circumstances and give credibility to why this character is the ‘chosen one.’ However, how every event is connected or meant to happen does get played out when audience members are used to the repetitive ‘chosen one’ story telling. Events feel too obvious, advantageous, and predictable. Story writers must aim to make sure the successes in a character’s story are genuine and merited. Many movies and stories have gained success from this basic plot design, but what are more specific implications as to what these kind of movies teach us?
Despite the “feel good” hype these movies try to serve, hard work can’t always result in a successful endings and, sometimes, no matter how hard we try at success it isn’t guaranteed. This is also backed by the fact that ‘chosen one’ movies are usually told as myths or epic fantasies, such as Harry Potter and Kung Fu Panda, leaving little room for audiences to believe such victories could literally be attainable. This doesn’t imply that we shouldn’t admire and appreciate the struggle of being the only wizard to stop evil for good or fulfilling the role of a dragon warrior, but rather analyze what these scenarios mean to us and what we can learn from them. Given this, we should learn the realities of our own circumstances, and that if we want something as “magical” to happen, we need to believe in such achievement. The concept of being the ‘chosen one’ downplays achievement in that because a character was specifically chosen for such a role and have a series of events “going for them,” they have a greater advantage in reaching unrealistic goals we can’t so easily attain. In reality, a ‘chosen one’ does give false hope, and in this I believe characters should be depicted as someone exceptional–to relate to my own and everyone else’s faulty dreamscape of the real world, where choices come with a greater cost and making decisions aren’t as easy as a flick of a wand. In essence, the magical world of opportunity and convenience in a place of struggle is a utopia slowly unfolded in these movies and such worlds engage audiences with possibility, wonder, and hope. But with this comes an unrealistic mindset of inevitable achievement, and the audience must understand that success is sometimes as more about choice than fate.