Exclusive: Kung Fu Panda 4 makers on what's next in Po's quest for inner peace | Hollywood - Hindustan Times
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Exclusive: Kung Fu Panda 4 makers open up on Jack Black, new characters, what's next in Po's quest for inner peace

ByDevansh Sharma
Dec 14, 2023 08:10 AM IST

In an exclusive interview, Kung Fu Panda 4 director Mike Mitchell and producer Rebecca Huntley talk about Po's new adventures and reuniting with Jack Black.

Po is back on his quest for inner peace. In the recently released trailer of Kung Fu Panda 4, we see him in a new world, tying up with new friends, and battling new demons. (Also Read: Kung Fu Panda 4 trailer out: Po faces new foe on a spiritual quest; release date revealed)

Po goes on a new quest for inner peace in Kung Fu Panda 4
Po goes on a new quest for inner peace in Kung Fu Panda 4

In an exclusive interview, the film's director Mike Mitchell and producer Rebecca Huntley discuss what Po is upto in the fourth part of the popular franchise, addition of new characters essayed by Awkwafina and Viola Davis, and co-creating the lead character with Jack Black. Excerpts:

Why did it take seven years to make the fourth part?

Mike: Well, what took so long is that we wanted to make sure we had the story right, and we didn't want to move forward until we had the greatest story of all time to tell. We really wanted Po to evolve. We wanted to meet new characters. We wanted to visit new worlds. We wanted to expand his world, so that took a while to get right and to design it all.

In the trailer, we see Po (Jack Black) meditating in silence under a tree and chanting inner peace till he snorts a flower and starts coughing. Do you feel that Po really finds inner peace only when he's on an adventure?

Mike: Well, we're all looking for inner peace. But like all of us, when I try to meditate, it's very difficult to focus. But yeah, I've worked on a lot of franchises here at Dreamworks, like Shrek and Trolls, and I've worked on Lego and Spongebob. And what's really interesting is how these characters stand the test of time and evolve. And so for Po, we wanted to make sure that he's always evolving, always trying to level up, always trying to get to the next step on his journey. And this one, we decided to just make the greatest, biggest journey of all time, where he needs to earn becoming the ‘Spiritual Leader of the Valley of Peace.’

Rebecca: I think the thing with seeing Po meditate in the beginning, it's the perfect setup that he can't focus. He is the Dragon Warrior. He loves his adventure, and it sets him up for going off on yet another adventure. Hopefully, by the end of it, maybe he does find his inner peace. Yeah, you'll have to watch the movie to find out. But just like Jack Black, it's very hard for Po to sit still, he wants to be fighting.

Why do we not see Tigress (Angelina Jolie) in the trailer? Instead, we see a new partner in crime in Zhen (Awkwafina). What's the scene there?

Mike: Well, here's the thing. The Furious Five do make an appearance in this part. All five of them: Crane, Viper, Monkey, Mantis, and Tiger. But we decided to really evolve our story. We incorporated a whole bunch of new characters. So we've got a penguin. We've got a granny boar. We've got these three really cute bunnies that are able to become super evil and attack people. The list goes on and on. So the movie is so jam-packed with brand new characters. We wanted to expand our story and get Po out of the Valley of Peace.

Rebecca: Yeah, he heads to a brand new city. And as Mike is saying, there's all these new new characters that he encounters. So yeah, it was really an opportunity to expand our world. So, we definitely give our nod to the Furious Five. But yeah, it's taking the story and opening it up.

Speaking of new characters, the villain called The Chameleon got my attention. How do you think her shapeshifting superpower poses a threat to Po? And why do you think Viola Davis was the right pick for the role?

Villains are one of my favourite parts of this franchise. Po has faced some of the most incredible bad guys, from Tai Lung to General Kai to Lord Shen. But he's never faced firstly, a female villain, and secondly, a villain who has such supernatural powers. That was really exciting for us to explore, all these crazy, creepy powers. And what makes Viola perfect for this character is… she is a very small character in stature. She's a little chameleon lizard, but her voice gave her such presence, and not for once do you ever think she's a small character.

How would you describe the Kung Fu Panda humour? The trailer captures it all – the slapstick (the farting scene), the self-deprecating (When Po says to The Chameleon disguised as him, “I'm going to beat my ass”) as well as dark (the three cute little rabbits cheerfully demanding a “slow and painful” death).

Mike: It's the humour of something for everyone. People laugh at different things, and I think we really tried to be mindful of appealing to a broad audience and connecting on all different levels. So I think you get the slapstick, the self-deprecating humour. And for the first time ever, we really incorporated the whole team's jokes. It wasn't just the scriptwriter writing jokes. But it was also the storyboard artists coming up with jokes, and then beyond that, the animators coming up with jokes. So I think that's where you get a big, vast array of different styles and tones.

Rebecca: We wanted to make it as funny as we could make it, and then we also wanted to make it as action-packed. So we really leaned into both verbal humour and physical humour.

Mike, you've been associated with Kung Fu Panda since the first film. You were credited as a creative consultant on the first one, got a ‘special thanks’ in the second one, and in the third one, you were a voice actor for a small part yourself. In the fourth, you direct! How do you see your evolution in the franchise, parallel to Po's in the movies?

Mike: Well, it's cool. I got to be a part of Po's adventure every time and watch him grow and expand. And it's been really interesting to watch the technology of animation come leaps and bounds since the first movie in 2008. There's so much more we could do with Kung Fu fighting and camera styles and special effects and stuff. So it's been a real treat to be a part of it. I was executive producer on Part 3. I've always wanted to direct one of them. But I wanted to wait for the perfect story like this. These movies really have to evolve, and they really have to have a reason to be made, and this story was so exciting to me, and such an addition and a departure from the previous three, that I really wanted to be more of a part of it. So that's why I got involved.

Rebecca: What's great about having Mike directing our fourth film here is because he has been on with the franchise since the beginning. To have a director who understands the evolution of the character of Po and the franchise.

How much of a co-creator is Jack Black?

Mike: Now, very much so. A lot of the jokes, especially that meditation stuff you're talking about, a lot of that came from riffing and having fun, and really sitting there and trying to meditate during our our record session. But he is so invested in and so passionate about this character. In fact, there's not a lot of difference between Kung Fu Panda and Jack Black. He's action-packed, he's enthusiastic, and he's a fanboy!

Rebecca: Right, he is a delight. Oh, my goodness! Just every recording session, he immerses himself in the script and in the character. He has conversations to make sure he understands every scene that we're in, and then he just does his thing. It's brilliant every time he can make anything funny. Speaking of humour, he could make any joke way funnier than it already is.

Kung Fu Panda 4 is slated to release in cinemas in March 2024.

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