In June 2008, DreamWorks Animation premiered its action/adventure, Kung Fu Panda, which earned more than $633 worldwide, with Jack Black voicing the lead role of Po. Three years later, Kung Fu Panda 2 is sure to rake in millions, opening for the Memorial Day weekend.
Po is now living his dream as The Dragon Warrior, protecting the Valley of Peace alongside his friend and fellow kung fu masters, The Furious Five. But his life is about to be shaken up by a new villain, Lord Shen (voiced by Gary Oldman), a peacock who wants to conquer China.
Jack Black spoke of both movies and his love for Po and pandas.
How was it coming back to the character, did you have a feeling of coming home?
It was like putting on a nice comfortable pair of shoes again. It felt good. I love Po. It was exciting.
The first film really didn’t deal with Po’s adoption, the goose being your father, in this one it has really become the crux of the story – why wasn’t it mentioned in the first one?
Why wasn’t it mentioned in the first film? It was like a funny joke, it was the elephant in the room in the first one. Obviously he was adopted, but there was no talk of it and that was the funny unsaid thing. It was the burning question in a lot of the audiences’ minds, when are they going to deal with that, so we dealt with that head on in this one.
What happens with Po in the new movie?
Po is having flashbacks of his childhood, before he lived with is father, who’s a goose. So he comes to realize that he’s actually adopted, and he doesn’t know where his birth parents are or what happened to the other pandas. Why did they give him up? So in addition to this being a hero’s journey to save the day, it’s also a journey of self-discovery.
Once Po suspects that he’s adopted, he confronts his father, who admits that he found him when he was a baby. But he raised him as his son, and he considers him his son. Po believes that, too, but he still wants some questions answered. And it just so happens that these questions arise at the same time that a new villain, Lord Shen, the peacock, arrives on the scene.
Can you talk a little about Gary Oldman, who voices the character of Shen?
He’s one of my favorite actors of all time. I’ve always drawn a lot of inspiration from his performances, way back to Sid and Nancy. And to see all of the different villains he’s played, probably my favorite is Dracula. In the scene where he’s with the white wolf, and he says to the girl, ‘He likes you.’ There’s something almost delicate about the evil in that scene that was really amazing. I was really excited when I heard he was playing Shen.
Do you actually practice kung fu?
Yes, I did some training in kung fu, for both films. It wasn’t just for research purposes; it was also to kind of get in shape. What really drew me is that there’s a combination of exercise and self-defense, along with the third, sort of unseen, component, a spiritual one. When you’re really practicing kung fu, living it and feeling it, there’s a meditative quality that seeps in. It feels almost religious. It’s an art form, really. Oh, well, duh, it’s called martial arts.
The mantra in the movie is ‘inner peace,’ can you talk about your inner peace?
My inner peace is in pieces at the moment! I find inner peace in my family. The simple things bring me back home to a peaceful place in my mind.
Do you consider the action sequences in this violent?
The Furious Five never use actual weapons of any kind. It’s all kung fu, so in a way it’s a non-violent film. It discourages weaponry. I don’t like guns, I don’t own one. I like laser blasters, but that’s where I draw the line!
What were your favorite cartoons when you were a kid?
I loved the old Disney classics. I was a big fan of animation. I like to draw and animate – I did a lot of that in high school. If I hadn’t become an actor, I might have become an animator. You can print that.
Have you ever met a panda?
I have met a panda. I few months ago, I got to go to the Atlanta Zoo, and see the latest panda born in captivity, and they named him Po. Wow. I’d say that’s a pretty big deal. He’s not ready for a thrown-down yet, but give him time. He’s gonna be one heck of a panda, I just know it.
Would you like to do another sequel?
I like going one movie at a time. This one was great. It’s up to the audience ultimately how many we do. As long as people love it and hunger for more Kung Fu Panda adventure, then there will be more.
What was your reaction when you saw the first Kung Fu Panda movie?
When I finally saw the whole thing put together it was one of the proudest moments of my career. It takes many years to make one of these movies – a lot longer than a regular live-action film. There’s much more work that goes into it – story development, artwork, particularly the way the DreamWorks Animation filmmakers work on their films.
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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