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Peter T Chattaway

Kung Fu Panda: The Kaboom of Doom

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Link to our thread on the original Kung Fu Panda (2008).

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Charlie Kaufman polishing 'Kung Fu Panda' sequel (exclusive)

Charlie Kaufman, the Oscar-winning writer behind “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and films such as “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich,” has headed off into an unexpected direction: animation.

The scribe is coming off of less than two weeks worth of work on DreamWorks Animation’s “Kung Fu Panda: The Kaboom of Doom,” the sequel to the fun 2008 movie that had the voice talent of Jack Black, Angelina Jolie and Dustin Hoffman.

His work on “Kaboom” falls under the polish category, and animated movies tend to be worked on by multiple writers, so it’s not fair to say this will be a Kaufman cartoon. But it will be interesting to see, when the movie is released in 2011, how much of the Kaufman stamp it will bear. . . .

Hollywood Reporter, May 13

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opus   

I really liked the original film and was excited about the possibility of a sequel. But Charlie Kaufman working on the sequel?! Not sure what to make of that, though on the surface, it sounds pretty cool. Does this mean that Po is going to go through some major existentialist identity crisis?

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Katzenberg Talks DreamWorks Sequels

We sat down with DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg this week in London, and asked him about the future of the company. You can read the full interview over here, but we thought we'd particularly draw your attention to what he had to say about planned animation sequels to Kung-Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon and more. Namely, that we're looking at a total of four Madagascar films, six Pandas (which was already rumoured) and at least three Dragons. . . .

[Katzenberg:] ". . . Kung Fu Panda actually has 6 chapters to it, and we’ve mapped that out over the years. . . ."

Empire, December 3

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Yikes. So at a rate of one movie every three years, they could be cranking out Kung Fu Pandas until 2023.

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SDG   

So wait, is this now the first big-studio animated feature directed by a woman?

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Fwiw, my CT review.

I'll be honest, though: I think Kung Fu Panda was made for sequels, and I'm quite happy to have the gang back for a second big-screen adventure—even if it is a little light on new ideas.

Because really, so what? The appeal of this movie—and, by the way things are headed, this franchise—has never had much to do with its Idea; unlike, say, Wall*E or even Up, Kung Fu Panda is not high-concept filmmaking. These are movies about animals that do kung fu. They are, essentially, Saturday morning cartoons rendered for the big screen (and, in the second installment, in 3-D). The 2008 original was an appealing blend of goofy comedy, martial arts scenes that mixed Jackie Chan-styled cartoonishness with Charlie Chaplin-esque slapstick, and well-intentioned messages about being yourself and standing up for what's right. It did all these things well, and the sequel is just as good; I'm perfectly content to see all this done for a second time, in a different setting and with a tweaked plot.

The first film never dug any deeper than its Saturday morning cartoon goofiness and expertly-choreographed action sequences, and the sequel doesn't either—and that's a good thing. Frankly, the first chapter really only gave us one interesting character—Po, the title character, voiced by Jack Black. The members of the Furious Five, though well-designed and voiced by some big-name actors, really never got a chance to do much, or to develop into anything beyond cardboard cutouts.

If anything, they are used even less here. There are some vaguely emotional scenes with Angelina Jolie's Tigress that just doesn't resonate like they are clearly meant to because, well, Tigress is just not an interesting character. But this second film gives me a little more enthusiasm for Po's dad, Mr. Ping; the film's most convincing scenes of characterization are its father-son moments.

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SDG wrote:

: So wait, is this now the first big-studio animated feature directed by a woman?

Well, she's probably "the first female Asian director of a major animated feature", at any rate.

I know there have been female directors before; The Prince of Egypt was directed by Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner and Simon Wells -- but that was a three-way co-direction, whereas Jennifer Yuh is apparently the only credited director on Kung Fu Panda 2. (Chapman was also going to be Pixar's first female director, on The Bear and the Bow a.k.a. Brave, until Pixar gave her the heave-ho a few months ago.)

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SDG   

So, the first big-studio animated feature directed by a woman (not as co-director)?

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SDG wrote:

: So, the first big-studio animated feature directed by a woman (not as co-director)?

Possibly. FWIW, Wikipedia says Brenda Chapman's work on The Prince of Egypt gives her the distinction of being "the first woman to direct an animated feature from a major studio", while noting that "three others had helmed independent efforts before her (Lotte Reiniger of The Adventures of Prince Achmed, Joy Batchelor of Animal Farm, and Arna Selznick of The Care Bears Movie)."

I don't believe Disney-Pixar has ever had a female director. (Chapman ALMOST got to be the first, there, since it was she who got Brave started, but Pixar has given that film one of its customary overhauls since bumping her from the project, replacing the lead actress etc. They're still giving Chapman "co-director" credit, no doubt because they don't want to lose the marketing hook of "Pixar's first female movie", but from what I hear it doesn't sound like she'll have much to do with the finished product.)

DreamWorks has been the more "progressive" studio here, easily. In addition to The Prince of Egypt and Kung Fu Panda 2, there is also Shrek and Shark Tale (both co-directed by Vicky Jenson) and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (co-directed by Lorna Cook).

The only other "major" studio right now, I'd say, is the Fox-based Blue Sky, and they don't seem to have had any female directors on any of their films either.

So, yes. Jennifer Yuh Nelson is the fourth woman to at least co-direct an animated film at DreamWorks (and thus at any major studio), and she appears to be the first and so far only one who has ever been given sole directorial credit.

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I've been giving some thought to the matter of the big, game-changing invention of gunpowder that occurs during this movie. Some minor spoilers follow (but nothing too major, since the outcome isn't too much in doubt anyway).

Early on, Po asks, "How can kung fu stop something that stops kung fu?" However, halfway through the movie an additional complication arises: It is not just that super-powered kung fu warriors have something to fear from guns (although they do, at least some of them), but that if those in possession of guns take innocent people hostage, then kung fu warriors cannot adequately protect them.

By the end, Po's question is answered. He can... I guess we could say he can even dodge bullets. In other words, nothing can stop kung fu. But Thundering Rhino's objection never gets answered, probably because it can't be. Gunpowder isn't an existential threat to kung fu, but it is to society at large -- because ordinary people cannot defend themselves like kung fu warriors can.

On a certain level, then, Po as kung fu warrior comes out of this story just fine, but Po as Dragon Warrior, i.e. defender of the Valley of Peace, is less credible. The idyllic security of that valley may not ever be the same, because the movie itself has already acknowledged that kung fu is not the answer to oppression or other problem that ordinary people face.

Edited by David Smedberg

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SDG   

David, I sense you may have read my review. :)

Gunpowder isn't an existential threat to kung fu, but it is to society at large -- because ordinary people cannot defend themselves like kung fu warriors can.

Hm. But how is this any different from saying "Kung fu isn't an existential threat to kung fu, but it is to society at large -- because ordinary people cannot defend themselves like kung fu warriors can"?

I mean, in the real world, you get enough ordinary people together and even a kung fu warrior is going down. But in films like these a kung fu warrior can defeat literally any number of opponents of lesser skill, so.

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SDG   

BTW, I just realized I haven't linked to my review here yet.

Kung Fu Panda marked a turning point of sorts for DreamWorks Animation, and not just because it was the studio’s highest-grossing animated film without Shrek in the title. The studio might be Pixar’s leading rival, but until the coming of Po, they were getting by largely on the strength of their big green computer-animated superstar, and their prior roster of non-Shrek computer-animated products was a lineup of unmemorable one-offs: Bee Movie, Flushed Away, Over the Hedge, Shark Tale, Antz. (Madagascar was followed by a post-Panda sequel, presumably on the strength of the crowd-pleasing penguins, but both were as mediocre as movies can be.) But then Kung Fu Panda charmed family audiences and kung-fu fans alike, largely on the appeal of three things: (a) Jack Black’s wide-eyed fanboy mugging as Po, a roly-poly panda who loves kung fu and is improbably chosen to become the Dragon Warrior; (b.) Dustin Hoffman’s gruff but vulnerable mentor, the tiny red panda Master Shifu; and © a witty, occasionally inspired send-up of kung-fu movie conventions.

Kung Fu Panda was followed by Monsters vs. Aliens, How to Train Your Dragon and Megamind — all more high-concept, flamboyant and, well, franchise-ready than prior DreamWorks offerings. ...

In some ways, the sequel goes beyond the original. The Furious Five are better utilized this time around, as action icons if not as characters. It’s nice to see Po fighting alongside them, particularly in an opening action set piece, choreographed as a musical number, with Po and the Five defending a peaceful village against evil raiders. A hilarious sequence with a dragon puppet is even better. The animation is gorgeous, and director Jennifer Yuh (the first Asian woman director of a major animated film and probably the first woman of any ancestry with a solo director credit for a big-studio film) makes good use of sweeping landscapes and fantastical architecture.

Unfortunately, the movie makes three key mistakes.

First, a beautiful, economical opening prologue, depicted as a Chinese shadow play with puppets on sticks, gives away too much of the story...

Second, the filmmakers sideline Shifu, whose relationship with Po was central to the first film —and the rest of the cast remains underutilized, so there are no meaningful relationships this time around...

Third, the filmmakers paint themselves into a corner by building up the game-changing power of gunpowder to such a degree that there is no satisfying way for our heroes to win. In the climactic conflict, the Five use all their skill to block Shen from carrying out his plans, and he brushes aside all their efforts with a single blast from his cannon. “How can kung fu stop something that stops kung fu?” Po asks at one point. There’s no good answer to this question.

I can accept a lot in the service of a kung-fu story. I can accept that a flabby panda chosen by the universe can take a crash course in kung fu and become a worthy opponent for an unstoppable snow leopard capable of defeating the panda’s own teacher as well as the teacher’s five greatest students. I can accept that kung-fu masters can fling themselves off mountains and land running or extinguish a roomful of candles with a gesture. I can even accept the original movie’s wushi finger hold, which is apparently so powerful that the devastating effects of flexing one’s finger can’t be shown in a PG-rated film.

But gunpowder is a game changer, as Kung Fu Panda 2 spends its entire runtime establishing. In this one respect the filmmakers permit too much hard reality to backtrack at the end. Yet that’s exactly what they do. It’s textbook deus ex machina, and it’s a letdown.

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David, I sense you may have read my review. :)

Never! :lol: Actually, I did. I usually do, you know. :)

Gunpowder isn't an existential threat to kung fu, but it is to society at large -- because ordinary people cannot defend themselves like kung fu warriors can.

Hm. But how is this any different from saying "Kung fu isn't an existential threat to kung fu, but it is to society at large -- because ordinary people cannot defend themselves like kung fu warriors can"?

I mean, in the real world, you get enough ordinary people together and even a kung fu warrior is going down. But in films like these a kung fu warrior can defeat literally any number of opponents of lesser skill, so.

Even though the first movie didn't say that kung fu itself was at stake, what was happening was a battle for the soul of kung fu itself. Tai Lung was a threat to the Valley of Peace, but his motivation wasn't a will to destroy--he only attacked the valley the first time out of rage. His real motivation was to be acknowledged as the Dragon Warrior, the epitome of kung fu. His power, unchained from traditional kung fu morality, led him to harm people just to get his way--right?

So we could say that the first movie believed that "Kung fu run amuck may be a existential threat to kung fu, but the real problem is that kung fu run amuck is an existential threat to society at large." And there, the Furious 5 first thought that their role was to fight Tai Lung, but ultimately had to accept that their real role all along should have been a humbler one, that of leading people to safety.

Contrast that with the sequel, where the Furious 5's role throughout is to fight, even to the death, ignoring the warning of an old, wise warrior who advises them to lay down their arms so that ordinary people don't get caught in the crossfire. Said old, wise warrior's decision seems to me to be presented as -- not cowardice, exactly, but a certain despair. At no point does Shen actually turn his cannons on innocents (that might be PG-13 territory), but considering what he had done to the pandas, years before, it's totally plausible that he might. In fact, that's what he's getting ready to do before he is stopped. If anything, his actions during the final battle are just plain stupid, in that he keeps firing at Po instead of turning his cannons toward the city and saying, "Surrender or women and children get it."

My point here is just that: once they've raised the issue of holding people hostage, then why just ignore it? Perhaps it's tied to the excellent point you made earlier in your review, that the story was spinning its wheels until Po's knowledge catches up to ours. The whole deal with Rhino and Croc is an unnecessary side plot that would be better off dropped, I think.

Edited by David Smedberg

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It's raining here in Butte, Montana, and that means I'm taking my nieces out to see this in 3D.

I will not deconstruct this movie. I plan to just let it roll over me.

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It's raining here in Butte, Montana, and that means I'm taking my nieces out to see this in 3D.

I will not deconstruct this movie. I plan to just let it roll over me.

THE KABOOM OF DOOM is not so much a story as it is an experience.

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Good. Enough with this deconstructing! I mean, come on! You're not actually expecting to critically analyze Transformers 3, are you? Just enjoy it in all of it's teal-and-orange glory.

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Amid Amidi @ Cartoon Brew notes that Kung Fu Panda not only had one of the smaller openings of any recent DreamWorks cartoon, at least in North America, but that it also had a steeper drop in its second week than any DreamWorks cartoon since before the first Kung Fu Panda came out. It has been more successful overseas, though.

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FWIW, Kung Fu Panda 2 fell out of the North American top ten this past weekend, and it currently ranks #12 among DreamWorks cartoons in North America (though it should pass Over the Hedge and Shark Tale to land in the #10 spot within a couple weeks, I think; once it does, it would be behind all four Shreks, How to Train Your Dragon, the original Kung Fu Panda, Monsters Vs. Aliens and the two Madagascars).

Overseas, however, Kung Fu Panda 2 is currently #6 among DreamWorks cartoons, and it is virtually tied with How to Train Your Dragon for the #7 spot worldwide (behind the three Shrek sequels, the two Madagascars and the original Kung Fu Panda). (On an overseas-only basis, Kung Fu Panda 2 is already ahead of How to Train Your Dragon and the original Madagascar.)

For whatever that's worth.

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SDG   
FWIW, Kung Fu Panda 2 fell out of the North American top ten this past weekend, and it currently ranks #12 among DreamWorks cartoons in North America (though it should pass Over the Hedge and Shark Tale to land in the #10 spot within a couple weeks, I think; once it does, it would be behind all four Shreks, How to Train Your Dragon, the original Kung Fu Panda, Monsters Vs. Aliens and the two Madagascars).

Given how much better both Kung Fu Panda movies are than both Madagascar movies, and how utterly lame the original Madagascar in particular was, that this sequel should be trailing that sequel is pretty much incomprehensible to me.

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FWIW, Kung Fu Panda 2 fell out of the North American top ten this past weekend, and it currently ranks #12 among DreamWorks cartoons in North America (though it should pass Over the Hedge and Shark Tale to land in the #10 spot within a couple weeks, I think; once it does, it would be behind all four Shreks, How to Train Your Dragon, the original Kung Fu Panda, Monsters Vs. Aliens and the two Madagascars).

Given how much better both Kung Fu Panda movies are than both Madagascar movies, and how utterly lame the original Madagascar in particular was, that this sequel should be trailing that sequel is pretty much incomprehensible to me.

I couldn't agree more. Why in the world is this film not doing better business? I don't get it.

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