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Behind the Scenes of 'Kung Fu Panda 2'

A Look at the Making of DreamWorks Animation's 'Kung Fu Panda 2'

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DreamWorks Animation's 'Kung Fu Panda 2'

DreamWorks Animation's 'Kung Fu Panda 2'

© DreamWorks Animation

When it was released in 2008, Kung Fu Panda quickly became one of the top-grossing releases in DreamWorks Animation’s history – with the film taking in more money than such hits as 2004’s Shark Tale, 2005’s Madagascar, and 2007’s Bee Movie. It was no surprise, then, that DreamWorks executives decided to move forward on a sequel, with the choice quickly made to use Po’s mysterious past as a jumping off point for a new story. (As director Jennifer Yuh Nelson explains in the film’s production notes, “Since the release of Kung Fu Panda, there has been one burning question that people are desperate to answer. The question that defies explanation is:  Why is Po's dad a goose?”)

Though she had never directed a film before, Nelson’s experience in animation – combined with her hard work on the original movie – made her the ideal candidate to take the reins on this sequel. Explains producer Melissa Cobb, “Jen was there from the beginning, and was really instrumental in helping to shape the story. If there is anyone who knows this material, these characters and this world, it is Jen. Her becoming the director of Kung Fu Panda 2 was the most natural progression imaginable.” For her part, Nelson was keen to further explore the Eastern sensibilities of the first film: “I grew up with Hong Kong action movies, and I brought that sensibility as Head of Story on Kung Fu Panda. I was pretty gung ho for all of us to be in that mindset, and I continued that push on this film.”

The film’s storyline follows Po (Jack Black) and the Furious Five – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross) – as they attempt to prevent a fierce new villain (Gary Oldman’s Lord Shen) from conquering China and destroying kung fu. Explains one of the screenwriters, Glenn Berger, “Just as Po is getting comfortable in his new role as Dragon Warrior and leader of the Furious Five, a turn of events takes place leading Po to ask questions he never thought to ask. Where did he come from? How did he get there? And why is his dad a goose and he’s a panda? And unfortunately, Dad doesn’t have much to offer by way of answers for Po. So Po spends the rest of the movie trying to answer those questions – and what he discovers will change their relationship forever.”

With the story locked into place, the filmmakers began assembling a voice cast comprised of both old and new faces. The return of the Furious Five allowed screenwriters Berger and Jonathan Aibel to uncover new dimensions to the previously established characters, starting with Angelina Jolie’s Tigress. Says Jolie, “First and foremost, Tigress is a fighter, and she’s out to get the bad guy. But what’s nice about this story is that she has a bit of a breakthrough and learns to be nicer. Her pride was wounded when she was not chosen to be the Dragon Warrior, and it took her a while to get over being angry at Po and the universe, in general.”

Far more daunting was the creation of the film’s villain, as the filmmakers set out to top the memorable bad guy in the first movie, Ian McShane’s Tai Lung. They eventually came up with a fearsome peacock named Lord Shen; explains Nelson, “For the villain in this film, we went a completely different way from Tai Lung, who was hardcore, full-on strength and brutality. And we couldn’t really go much stronger than he – Tai Lung could punch his way out of a mountain.  So we looked for someone more threatening in a different way – more intellectual, smarter, devious.” The choice of Gary Oldman to voice the character seemed an obvious one for everyone involved, as, says Cobb, “Gary has such a great voice that can communicate gentleness and soul one minute, and spine-chilling evil the next.  That combination really serves Shen.  He gives him an amazing emotional intensity.”

The end result is a movie that, the filmmakers hope, will top its well-regarded predecessor. Says Black, “It all sort of comes full circle. I’ve been playing this character now for about five years, giving kids something to have fun with, and also, to learn that just giving it your all is what is asked. You can’t pre-judge how good you’re going to be at something – you can defeat yourself before you ever get out of the gate.  But you just go for it.”

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