Although the concept of a "kung fu panda" has been around since at least 1993, the idea for the film was conceived by Michael Lachance, a DreamWorks Animation executive. Work on the film did not begin until 2004. The film was originally intended to be a parody, but director Stevenson decided to instead shoot a simplistic comedy. The computer animation in the film was more complex than anything DreamWorks had done before. As with most DreamWorks animated films, Hans Zimmer 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.
Kung Fu Panda premiered in the United States on June 1, 2008, and has since received very favorable reviews from critics. The film currently garners an 89% "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 has resulted in DreamWorks' biggest opening for a non-sequel film, and the third-largest weekend overall for a DreamWorks animated film, behind Shrek the Third and Shrek 2.
Po (Jack Black) is a panda who works in a noodle restaurant owned by his goose father Mr. Ping (James Hong), who hopes that Po will one day take over the restaurant, and wishes to disclose with him the secret ingredient of his family's noodle soup. Po is a kung fu fanatic with secret dreams of becoming a great master in the discipline. However, his weight and clumsiness make his goal difficult to attain.
The tortoise Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) has a premonition that the evil snow leopard warrior Tai Lung (Ian McShane), the former student of his own protégé, the red panda Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), will escape from prison and return to threaten the Valley of Peace. While Shifu sends Zeng (Dan Fogler), a messenger goose, to Chor Ghom Prison to have the security increased, Oogway orders a formal ceremony to choose the Dragon Warrior, a supreme master of kung fu who can defeat Tai Lung. It is assumed that one of the Furious Five—Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross)—a quintet of supremely skilled martial artists trained by Shifu, will be chosen for this honor. Po, in his attempts to see the Dragon Warrior, finds himself in the middle of the ceremony. Oogway surprises everyone by designating Po himself as the Dragon Warrior despite Po's protests and Shifu's pleas to reconsider.
Revolted at having Po under his tutelage, Shifu attempts to make him quit by berating and humiliating him; the Five also dismiss Po as a worthless interloper. Taking sage advice from Oogway himself, Po endures their abuse willingly, eventually endearing himself to them with his determination, good cooking and sense of humor. Tigress later reveals to Po how Tai Lung came to be evil. Shifu raised him from a cub and treated him like a son. When Oogway refused to make Tai Lung the Dragon Warrior, he became enraged and laid waste to the Valley. He then tried to take the dragon scroll; Shifu tried to stop him, but could not bear to destroy what he had created. Tai Lung was then defeated by Master Oogway and imprisoned. Tigress ends her story by saying that Shifu loved Tai Lung like he never loved anyone before, or since.
Meanwhile, Zeng's errand backfires when a tour of the prison given to him by the overly confident head of security, Commander Vachir (Michael Clarke Duncan), inadvertently enables Tai Lung to escape. Tai Lung orders Zeng to send word of his arrival to Shifu. In the Valley of Peace, Oogway disappears in a pedal swirl, his final wish being that Shifu must train Po. However, Po confesses his belief that he may never be a match for Tai Lung. Overhearing this discussion, Tigress takes it upon herself to intercept Tai Lung, and the rest of The Five follow her to assist. The following morning, Shifu discovers that Po is capable of impressive physical feats when motivated by food. He leads Po to the countryside for an intensive training regime in which Po is offered food as a reward for learning his lessons. As Shifu hopes, Po swiftly becomes a skilled combatant.
The Five battle Tai Lung but are eventually defeated. All except Crane are paralyzed by a special nerve-striking technique, and he manages to carry his friends back to the valley. When they return, Shifu decides Po is ready to open the sacred Dragon Scroll, which promises great power to its possessor. However, when Po opens it, he finds nothing but a blank reflective surface. Stricken with despair at the scroll's apparent worthlessness, Shifu orders his students to lead the villagers to safety while he stays to delay Tai Lung for as long as he can.
Po meets up with his father, who tells him the secret ingredient of the family's noodle soup: nothing. Things become special, he explains, because people believe them to be special. Realizing that is the point of the Dragon Scroll, Po rushes off to help Shifu. At this time, Tai Lung arrives at the palace to obtain the Dragon Scroll. However, he discovers that the Dragon Scroll is gone, and then attempts to kill Shifu in anger. But before he can, Po arrives and challenges him. Tai Lung temporarily stuns him and gains the Dragon Scroll, but is unable to understand its symbolism. Po tries to explain the wisdom of the scroll to a frustrated Tai Lung, who uses his nerve attack on Po, but the panda is impervious thanks to his amply-padded gut. Emboldened, Po counter-attacks, and uses the Wuxi Finger Hold (a technique Shifu had previously threatened to use on Po) on Tai Lung, defeating him in a large explosion of golden light that ripples through the valley.
The Five return to the valley to investigate and find a slightly dazed but triumphant Po. Deeply impressed by Po's victory, Tigress leads the Five to acknowledge him as a Kung Fu master. Po suddenly remembers that his teacher is badly wounded, and rushes back to Shifu. At first the master appears to be dying, and Po panics. But Shifu is only trying to rest after such a terrible battle with Tai Lung.
At the end of the credits, Shifu and Po are seen eating together beside the sacred peach tree. A peach seed planted by Shifu before Oogway's disappearance has sprouted into a new plant.
|Jack Black||Po||Giant Panda|
|Dustin Hoffman||Master Shifu||Red Panda|
|Angelina Jolie||Master Tigress||South China Tiger|
|Ian McShane||Tai Lung||Snow Leopard|
|Jackie Chan||Master Monkey||Gee's Golden Langur|
|Seth Rogen||Master Mantis||Mantis|
|Lucy Liu||Master Viper||Green Tree Viper|
|David Cross||Master Crane||Red-crowned Crane|
|Randall Duk Kim||Master Oogway||Tortoise|
|James Hong||Mr. Ping||Chinese Goose|
|Dan Fogler||Zeng||Chinese Goose|
|Michael Clarke Duncan||Commander Vachir||Javan Rhinoceros|
Publicized work on the film began before October 2004 at about the same time the PlayStation 2 videogame Ribbit King was released with its kung fu panda character, "Pan-Pan. 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 parody and 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, and 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.
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. 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, having 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.
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?
Since its release, Kung Fu Panda has received very positive and favorable reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 89% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 149 reviews. The film has an approval rating of 77% from a select group of critics and an approval rating of 92% 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 coursed 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".
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 third-largest opening weekend overall for a DreamWorks animated film (behind Shrek the Third and Shrek 2). It is the first animated film to make more then 100 million Yuan in Chinese box offices. The film has so far made more than $600 million worldwide. The film will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on November 9, 2008.
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 lead to some Chinese introspection.
Jeffrey Katzenberg has publicly stated that because the film's premiere exceeded expectations, a Kung Fu Panda series of up to six films was likely depending on the overall performance of the initial film's release. With the subsequent strong box office performance of the film, preproduction of the first sequel is underway. On October 2, 2008, it was announced that the sequel would be called Pandamonium and would appear in theaters in June 2011.
In August 2008, a direct-to-video Chinese animation feature entitled Kungfu Master aka Wong Fei Hong vs Kungfu Panda (黃飛鴻大戰功夫熊貓) was released on DVD in East Asia by Vscape Enterprise. The film is an unofficial sequel; it reportedly combines Kung Fu Panda and Chinese martial arts folk hero Wong Fei Hung. In the film, the panda is assigned by god to protect an ancient treasure that could give the bearer the power to conquer the world. Upon losing it, the pair set off on an adventure to retrieve it.