Kung Fu Panda is a 2008 American animated film produced by DreamWorks Animation and distributed by Paramount Pictures. It was directed by John Wayne Stevenson and Mark Osborne and produced by Melissa Cobb, and stars the voice of Jack Black along with Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Randall
Duk Kim, James Hong and Jackie Chan. Set in ancient China, the plot revolves around a bumbling panda named Po who aspires to be a kung fu master. When an evil kung fu warrior is foretold to escape from prison, Po is unwittingly named the chosen one destined to bring peace to the land, much to the chagrin of the resident kung fu warriors
Although the concept of a “kung fu panda” has been around since at least 1993, work on the film did not begin until 2004. The idea for the film was conceived by Michael Lachance, a DreamWorks Animation executive. The film was originally intended to be a parody, but director Stevenson decided instead to shoot an action comedy martial arts film in the spirit of Hong Kong action cinema that incorporates the hero’s journey narrative archetype for the lead character. The computer animation in the film was more complex than anything DreamWorks had done before. As with most DreamWorks animated films, Hans Zimmer (collaborating with John Powell this time) scored Kung Fu Panda. He visited China to absorb the culture and get to know the China National Symphony Orchestra as part of his preparation. A sequel, Kung Fu Panda 2, is in production and set for release on May 27, 2011.
Kung Fu Panda premiered in the United States on June 6, 2008, and has since received very favorable reviews from critics and most of the movie-going public. The film currently garners an 88% “Certified Fresh” approval rating from review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Kung Fu Panda opened in 4,114 theaters, grossing $20.3 million on its opening day and $60.2 million on its opening weekend, resulting in the number one position at the box office. The film became DreamWorks’s biggest opening for a non-sequel film, highest grossing animated movie of the year, the fourth-largest weekend for a DreamWorks animated film at the American and Canadian box office, behind Shrek the Third, Shrek 2, and Shrek Forever After, and the forty-eighth highest-grossing film of all time.
he story is set in the Valley of Peace, a fictional land in ancient China inhabited by anthropomorphic animals. Po (Jack Black), a young, clumsy and overweight panda, is a kung fu fanatic who idolizes the Furious Five – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross) – a quintet of kung fu masters trained by the red panda Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) to protect the valley. Because he works in his goose father Ping’s (James Hong) noodle restaurant, Po is unable to achieve his dream of becoming a kung fu master himself.
One day, Shifu’s mentor, the elderly tortoise Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), has a vision that Shifu’s former student and foster son, the snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane), will escape from prison and return to the Valley of Peace to take revenge for being denied the Dragon Scroll, which is said to hold the secret to limitless power. Shifu holds a kung fu tournament for the Furious Five so that Oogway may identify the legendary Dragon Warrior, the one kung fu master worthy of receiving the Dragon Scroll and defeating Tai Lung. He arrives too late and the doors to the tournament arena close, but desperate to see the Dragon Warrior be chosen, Po straps himself to a set of fireworks and rockets into the sky, crashing into the middle of the arena. To the surprise of everyone present, Oogway chooses Po, seemingly by accident.
Unwilling to believe that a big, fat panda can be the Dragon Warrior, Shifu attempts to get rid of Po by berating and ridiculing him into quitting his training with the Furious Five, who similarly despise and mock Po for his lack of respect and skill in kung fu. After receiving helpful advice from Oogway, however, Po endures his grueling training and slowly begins to endear himself to the Five with his tenacity, culinary skill and good humor. By this time, Tai Lung escapes from prison as foreseen by Oogway, who makes Shifu promise to train Po before passing away. Still unable to grasp the basics of kung fu, Po despairs he has no chance of defeating Tai Lung, but Shifu discovers that Po is capable of impressive physical feats when motivated by food and, using the promise of a meal, successfully trains Po to incorporate these skills into a makeshift yet effective kung fu style.
Meanwhile, the Furious Five set out on their own to stop Tai Lung themselves, only to return following their defeat. Shifu decides Po is ready to receive the Dragon Scroll which, upon being opened, reveals nothing but a blank, reflective surface. Thinking the scroll is useless, Shifu orders Po and the Five to evacuate the valley while he fights Tai Lung to delay him as long as possible. The dejected Po meets with his father Ping who, in an attempt to console him, reveals that the long-withheld secret ingredient to his famous “secret ingredient soup” is nothing, saying that things become special if people believe them to be. Realizing this is the point of the Dragon Scroll, Po goes to confront Tai Lung after he nearly kills Shifu. Po proves to be a formidable challenge for Tai Lung as he tries to protect the Dragon Scroll to lure the villain away from Shifu, but it eventually falls into Tai Lung’s grasp. However, he is unable to understand or accept its symbolic meaning, and Po ultimately defeats him using the secret “Wuxi Finger Hold”. Po is praised by the Valley of Peace and earns the respect of the Furious Five, who fully acknowledge him as a true kung fu master. Shifu, exhausted but alive after his fight with Tai Lung, is finally at peace with himself now that peace has returned to the valley. Publicized work on the film began before October 2004. In September 2005, DreamWorks Animation announced the film alongside Jack Black, who was selected to be the main voice star.
Initially, the idea for the film was to make it a spoof, but co-director John Stevenson was not particularly keen on the idea so instead chose the direction of simplistic comedy. Reportedly inspired by Stephen Chow’s 2004 martial arts action comedy, Kung Fu Hustle, the co-directors wanted to make sure the film also had an authentic Chinese and kung fu feel to it. Production designer Raymond Zibach and art director Tang Heng spent years researching Chinese painting, sculpture, architecture and kung fu movies to help create the look of the film. Zibach said some of the biggest influence of him are the more artful martial arts films such as Hero, House of Flying Daggers and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The aim for the film, which took four years to make, was to have a good blend of the two, as well as to give it an “epic” feel, unlike other DreamWorks animated features which resorted to “pop songs and celebrity references.”
In November 2005, DreamWorks Animation announced that Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu and Ian McShane would join Jack Black in the cast.
“We’ve had some productions that were stressful, but this one ran very smoothly and DreamWorks is [sic] this production as a template on how they would like future productions to run. We lucked out, and there really was a sense of harmony on the animation. Even the production people. We all seemed like we were on the same page, believing in the film. That doesn’t happen very often. I tell animators, you will be working on dumpers for most of your career, but every once in a while you get a gem. Kung Fu Panda was a gem.”
—Dan Wagner, Head of Character Animation.
The hand-drawn animation sequence at the beginning of the film was made to resemble Chinese shadow puppetry. The opening, which was directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and produced by James Baxter, was praised by The New York Times reviewer Manohla Dargis as “striking” and “visually different from most mainstream American animations”. Other reviewers have compared the opening to the evocative style of Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack. The rest of the film is modern computer animation, which uses bright, offbeat colors to evoke the natural landscape of China. The end credit sequence also features hand-drawn characters and still paintings in the background.
The computer animation used throughout the film was more complex than anything DreamWorks had done before. When the head of production handed the script to VFX Supervisor Markus Manninen, she reportedly laughed and wished him “good luck”. “When we started talking,” said Manninen, “the movie was still a high concept. But for everyone that looked at it, it screamed complexity. We launched off saying, how can you make this movie tangible? How can you find smart ways to bring this world to life in a way that makes it a great movie and not feel like the complexity becomes the driver of the story, but the story and the emotion being the driver?”
In preparation, the animators took a six hour kung fu class.
Producer Melissa Cobb said that originally Po was “more of a jerk,” but that the character changed after they heard Jack Black. According to Jack Black, he mostly worked “in isolation”, although he and Dustin Hoffman did spend a day together, which Cobb said helped with the scene where their characters face off. Lucy Liu said that the film “was quite different because it was such a long process.” Liu said that when she was presented with the project they already had artwork of her character as well as a “short computerized video version of what she would look like when she moved.”
The film held its worldwide premiere at the 61st Cannes Film Festival on May 15, 2008, where it received massive and sustained applause at the end of the film’s screening. Kung Fu Panda later had national premieres in the United States on June 1, 2008 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, and on June 26, 2008 at Leicester Square in London, for the United Kingdom.
Kung Fu Panda was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on November 9, 2008. The special features include an animated short film starring Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu and David Cross, a Kung Fu Fighting music video by Cee-Lo Green and Jack Black, a tutorial on how to use chopsticks, sound, The Tech of Kung Fu Panda, The Cast of Kung Fu Panda, deleted and alternate scenes, cast interviews and biographies with Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu and David Cross, The Premiere of Kung Fu Panda, interactive games and more. The movie can be purchased as a stand-alone DVD or as part of a two-disc pack that includes the companion story Secrets of the Furious Five.
Reception and box office
Kung Fu Panda has received positive reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 88% of 163 critics gave the film a positive review. The film has an approval rating of 76% from a select group of critics and an approval rating of 83% from users of the site. Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 73 out of 100, based on 33 reviews.
Richard Corliss of Time Magazine gave the film a positive review, stating the picture “provides a master course in cunning visual art and ultra-satisfying entertainment”. The New York Times said, “At once fuzzy-wuzzy and industrial strength, the tacky-sounding Kung Fu Panda is high concept with a heart,” and the review called the film “consistently diverting” and “visually arresting”. Chris Barsanti of Filmcritics.com commented, “Blazing across the screen with eye-popping, sublime artwork, Kung Fu Panda sets itself apart from the modern domestic animation trend with its sheer beauty [...] the film enters instant classic status as some of the most gorgeous animation Hollywood has produced since the golden age of Disney.” The Chicago Tribune called the film “one of the few comedies of 2008 in any style or genre that knows what it’s doing”. Roger Ebert gave it three stars praising the animation, action scenes, and saying that older viewers will be forgiving. The film was released in 4,114 theaters, grossing $20.3 million on its opening day and $60.2 million over the weekend, resulting in the number one position at the box office. It is also DreamWorks Animation’s biggest opening for a non-sequel film, and the fourth-largest opening weekend overall for a DreamWorks animated film (behind Shrek the Third, Shrek 2, and Shrek Forever After). The film made $215,434,591 in the American and Canadian box office as well as $416,309,969 in foreign box offices bringing its worldwide total to $631,744,560. It was the highest grossing animated movie of 2008 and also the third highest grossing movie of the year. The film was released on DVD and Blu-Ray on November 9, 2008.
Kung Fu Panda was also well-received in China. It made nearly 110 million Chinese Yuan by July 2, 2008, becoming the first animated film to make more than 100 million Yuan in Chinese box offices. The Chinese director Lu Chuan commented, “From a production standpoint, the movie is nearly perfect. Its American creators showed a very sincere attitude about Chinese culture.” With the film’s success at the Chinese box office, some people within China have questioned the quality of China’s domestic animations. The fact that such a successful film based on Chinese culture was created by the American movie industry has led to some Chinese introspection.
The release of the film in the land where it was set was not without controversy. Zhao Bandi, a Chinese artist and fashion designer who specializes in panda-related designs, launched an online petition suggesting that the film should be boycotted. In his petition, Bandi stated that Hollywood was seeking to profit from Chinese culture. The film was aired soon after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and the petition said that the film was in poor taste to be released so soon after the disaster, given that pandas live within the area affected by the quake. Bandi also protested against the fact that the film was produced by DreamWorks, which is owned by Steven Spielberg. Spielberg withdrew from his role as an adviser to the 2008 Summer Olympics over concerns about China’s role in Sudan (although Spielberg is not one of the producers of Kung Fu Panda). Zhao Bandi admitted that he had not actually seen the film prior to the petition. However, while postings on his website both praised and criticized the film, many people said that there was no reason to boycott it. Zhao’s complaints prompted an online backlash asserting that an entertaining film paying tribute to Chinese heritage would be welcome at this difficult time, and some even questioned whether this was just a publicity stunt by the artist.
Kung Fu Panda had been shortlisted for nomination for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and the Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Feature Film. However, both awards were won by Pixar’s WALL-E instead.
By contrast, Kung Fu Panda won 11 Annie Awards (including Best Picture) out of 16 nominations, albeit amid controversy.
Main article: Kung Fu Panda soundtrack
As with most DreamWorks animated films, composer Hans Zimmer scored the film. Zimmer visited China in order to absorb the culture and got to know the Chinese National Symphony as part of his preparation; in addition, Timbaland also contributed to the soundtrack. The soundtrack also includes a partially rewritten version of the classic song, “Kung Fu Fighting”, performed by Cee-Lo Green and Jack Black for the end credits. Furthermore, in some versions, the ending credit was sung by Rain. Although Zimmer was originally announced as the main composer of the film, during a test screening, CEO of DreamWorks Animation SKG Jeffrey Katzenberg announced that composer John Powell would also be contributing to the score. This marked the first collaboration in eight years for the two, who had previously worked together on Dreamworks’ The Road to El Dorado and the action thriller Chill Factor. A soundtrack album was released by Interscope Records on June 3, 2008.
A sequel called Kung Fu Panda: The Kaboom of Doom is currently in pre-production and is slated for release on May 27, 2011. It is set to be in 3-D and will be directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson (who directed the praised 2-D opening sequence of Kung Fu Panda) with the original cast returning. The story features a new villain with a mysterious weapon so powerful it threatens the very existence of kung fu, and Po must additionally confront his past.
A manga based on the film has been released in Japan in Kerokero Ace magazine’s September 2008 issue. It is written by Hanten Okuma and illustrated by Takafumi Adachi.
A television series is in development for Nickelodeon titled Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, and is scheduled to premiere in 2010