Saturday, June 04, 2011

My Kung Fu Panda 2 Story

Crystal noodles, steamed pork buns and Kung Fu Panda
By Raymond de Asis Lo, LA Correspondent (The Philippine Star) Updated May 29, 2011 12:00 AM Comments (0) View comments

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Po the Panda and friends, including Jack Black (inset) who voices Po.

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MANILA, Philippines - In early April, DreamWorks Animation opened its doors to this writer and a hundred or so other journalists from all over the world to unveil its slate of two high-profile animated films for 2011. Jeffrey Katzenberg, the head of DreamWorks Animation and the “K” in the “Dreamworks SKG” company name, was present to introduce the 65-minute reel of Kung Fu Panda 2, the sequel to the hit 2008 movie that featured the voices of Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman and Jackie Chan. A gorgeous 25-minute footage of
Puss N Boots featuring Antonio Banderas’ plucky and dashing cat from the Shrek movies was presented later in the day.

The press tour was a whole day affair. The journalists were requested to check in at 11 in the morning and we weren’t done until after six in the evening. The whole compound was decked in ornate oriental decorations, red lanterns mostly. The pond located in the sunken part of the compound was converted into a Chinese village where Asian dishes like crystal noodles and steamed pork buns were served all day.

The tour of the working studio started with the screening of Kung Fu Panda 2 at noon. The clip that was shown to the press that day was the first half of the movie where a new villain, a wicked albino peacock named Lord Shen, is revealed to have had a hand in the fate that brought Po, the titular character, to the care of an old goose named Mr. Ping, who runs a noodle restaurant in the Valley of Peace.

In the sequel, Po has come to revel in his new role as his village’s chief protector until an enemy from his past reemerges and threatens to rule all over China by unleashing a new and powerful weapon that has the potential of finally defeating the ancient art of Kung Fu. Po and the rest of the Furious Five – Tigress, Crane, Mantis, Viper and Monkey – must journey across China to face this new enemy and destroy this secret weapon.

The animation in Kung Fu Panda 2 (we saw the version rendered in 3D) is impressive to say the least. The characters and locales come alive in vibrant colors and the 3D effect employed less of the usual “objects-leaping-out-of-the-screen” gimmicks and it made for a truly incredible visual experience. Though we only caught the first half of the movie, the filmmakers assured us that the second part would have even more action and would finally unlock the mysteries of Po’s mythical beginnings.

A 45-minute press conference was held inside the Campanile Theater following the screening. After the press conference, the journalists were assigned to several groups that would be taken around the studio compound for a mini educational tour ala Animation 101 for most of the afternoon.

Did you know that a typical animation movie, the big-budget ones, takes no less than four years to make? Kung Fu Panda 2 started pre-production even before the first Kung Fu Panda was shown in the summer of 2008.

“The origins of Po and his story actually go back to something we always hoped and imagined had 6 chapters to it,” Jeffrey told the press. “The writers actually mapped out what is an arc to Po and hisstory that would take place from the moment we meet him and his origin to basically a full journey for him and we know that at the end of this movie is the first peek through the window of what chapter 3 is.”

Yes, there will be a Kung Fu Panda 3 and work is already underway on it and there will be even three more after! “Let’s say, four time four is sixteen years, are you guys down with that?” joked Jeffrey, referring to how many more years the production will have to spend working on four more sequels.

Making a DreamWorks animated film is by no means an ordinary journey. An entire building, all four-stories of it, is assigned to just one project. There’s an entire department that does the pre-visualization phase of the movie. Another floor houses all the various artists who work on just one character – how that character moves, talks, flies, cries, smirks, or kicks enemies, for the entire duration of the production process. There are sections that are dedicated solely in rendering the cinematography (yes, animated films have their own cinematographers, too, just like its regular live-action cousins), music, sound, and editing. The day of our tour, the studio was abuzz with the final post-production work on “Puss N Boots”.

Care for another impressive fact? There were more than 400 artists and craftsmen who spent hundreds and hundreds of hours to complete work on this ambitious sequel and at the helm was a petite Korean director, Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who was given the rare opportunity by Katzenberg to direct the sequel after working on the first movie as the head story writer.

Jennifer, Jeffrey, and the main voice cast were present during the press conference. Hollywood superstar Angelina Jolie, who provided the voice for Tigress, attended the press conference but skipped the press roundtables held later in the day. Jack Black and Gary Oldman did the press roundtables.

Kung Fu Panda 2, released locally by United International Pictures, opens simultaneously in Manila and in the USA on Thursday, May 26th, and for those who are unfamiliar with the first Kung Fu Panda here is a guide on who did what character’s voice in the movie:

Jack Black is Po, the giant panda and main protagonist in the movie. His personal history was purposely kept vague in the first movie but in the sequel, his past is finally unlocked when an old enemy resurfaces. Jack has enjoyed an impressive career in Hollywood but his titular role in Kung Fu Panda brought him the most success, according to him.

“I have received tremendous amount of recognition for my turn as Po, and the kids, in particular, are an awesome audience to have on your side. They’re fun to high five and give autographs to and I never get annoyed by the good vibes I get from the kids,” Jack said.

Dustin Hoffman returns as Master Shifu, the trainer of the Furious Five and mentor of Po.

The Furious Five, the movie’s homage to the five styles of Kung Fu, are still voiced by the original actors from the first movie. Jackie Chan provides the voice of Monkey. David Cross, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, and Angelina Jolie provide the voices of Crane, Viper, Mantis, and Tigress, respectively.

Angelina, who was resplendent in beige pants and blazer that day, shared her thoughts on the movie’s dominant theme of foster parenting and the pursuit of that elusive “inner peace” during the press conference as well but declined to show us her own kung fu moves after Jack did an impromptu exhibition after we asked him to do a sample demonstration. Jack did a couple minutes of reasonable kung fu technique.

“I just had a cheeseburger panini,” Angelina exclaimed, echoing Jack’s earlier excuse, and did not give in to our request but she said that she found the Kung Fu Panda series quite “lovely.” “My children have seen it, they loved it and they laughed out loud. I was very curious how they reacted to the family themes a bit. My character was raised in an orphanage and adopted by Shifu and in this one Po discovers that he is adopted and it’s about a search for self.”

The actress added that “we make the choice” in life. It doesn’t matter how one was born or one comes from, what matters is “who we are and who we decide to be in life and not defined by our parents or our past.”
Playing the movie’s main villain is Peacock, voiced by current Hollywood go-to villain and critically-acclaimed character actor Gary Oldman, who insisted that it was wrong for anyone to suggest that he is Hollywood’s primary villain.

“I try my best to inhabit the fur of my character!” Gary proclaimed in mock displeasure. The actor was the only one considered for the part and he said he was thrilled to be in the movie even if it was in 3D, a format he was not really comfortable with. “I asked my agent what the role was, and I was told he was a villain!”

“I liked the character of Po and the imagery and the story. There’s a lot of movies now that are supposed to be for kids and I find them a little cynical, a bit crude,” he shared. “But this is one is different, I am proud of it, to be involved with it.”

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