Kung Fu Panda
Theatrical release poster
Directed by
Screenplay by
Story byEthan Reiff
Cyrus Voris
Produced byMelissa Cobb
Starring
Edited byClare Knight
Music by
Production
company
Distributed byParamount Pictures[N 1][1]
Release dates
  • May 15, 2008 (2008-05-15) (Cannes)
  • June 6, 2008 (2008-06-06) (United States)
Running time
92 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$130 million[3]
Box office$631.7 million[3]

Kung Fu Panda is a 2008 American animated martial arts comedy film produced by DreamWorks Animation and distributed by Paramount Pictures. The first installment in the Kung Fu Panda franchise, it was directed by John Stevenson and Mark Osborne (in their feature directorial debuts), from a screenplay and story respectively written by the writing teams of Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, and Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris. The film stars the voices of Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Randall Duk Kim, James Hong, Dan Fogler, Michael Clarke Duncan and Jackie Chan. The film, set in a version of ancient China populated by anthropomorphic animals, centers on a bumbling panda bear named Po (Black), a kung-fu enthusiast living in the Valley of Peace. When the savage snow leopard Tai Lung (McShane) is foretold to escape imprisonment and attack the Valley, Po is unwittingly named the "Dragon Warrior", a prophesied hero worthy of reading a scroll that has been intended to grant its reader limitless power.

The film's publicized work began in October 2004, and was conceived by Michael Lachance, a DreamWorks Animation executive, originally as a parody of martial arts films. However, director Stevenson decided to instead make an action-comedy wuxia film that incorporates the hero's journey narrative archetype for the lead character. The main characters' animation was more complex than anything DreamWorks had done before. The project was officially announced in September 2005. Like most DreamWorks Animation films, the score for Kung Fu Panda was composed by Hans Zimmer, this time collaborating with John Powell; the former visited China to absorb the culture, and used the China National Symphony Orchestra as part of the scoring process.

Kung Fu Panda premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival on May 15, 2008, and was theatrically released in the United States on June 6. It grossed $631.7 million on a budget of $130 million, making it the third highest-grossing film of 2008 and the highest-grossing animated film of the year worldwide, in addition to having the fourth-largest opening weekend for a DreamWorks film at the American and Canadian box office, behind the Shrek franchise.[4] It received positive reviews from critics, and was nominated for an Academy Award, as well as a Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Film, but lost both awards to WALL-E. The film's success spawned a multimedia franchise, which comprises the sequels Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011), Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016) and Kung Fu Panda 4 (2024).

Plot

In the Valley of Peace, a land in Ancient China inhabited by anthropomorphic animals, a giant panda named Po helps his goose father Mr. Ping run their noodle restaurant, but dreams of fighting alongside the Furious Five – Tigress, Monkey, Crane, Viper and Mantis – a group of kung fu masters who live in the Jade Palace, where they are trained by Master Shifu, a cranky red panda. One day, the wise tortoise, Master Oogway, the founder of kung fu, and the Valley's spiritual leader, predicts that Shifu's former beloved apprentice, the snow leopard Tai Lung, will escape from prison and attack the Valley to obtain the Dragon Scroll, a legendary artifact said to grant limitless power to its reader, which he had previously been denied. Panicked, Shifu sends his goose assistant, Zeng, to fortify the security at Chorh-Gom Prison, where Tai Lung is held.

Shifu holds a tournament for the Five so that Oogway can identify the Dragon Warrior, the prophesied hero worthy of reading the Scroll, and Po arrives too late to enter the arena. Desperate to see his idols, he accidentally launches himself into the middle of the tournament off a chair propelled by fireworks. Oogway proclaims Po the Dragon Warrior, much to Po's and the Masters' shock. Shifu believes Oogway's decision to be an accident, and the Five dismiss him, so Po considers quitting. However, after receiving encouragement from Oogway, he endures a frustrated Shifu's harsh training and gradually befriends the Five with his resilience, culinary skill and good humor. During this time, Tigress informs him that Shifu's distant behavior stems from his shame over Tai Lung's betrayal owing to being denied the dragon scroll (as Oogway sensed darkness in his heart), having raised him from infancy.

At Chorh-Gom Prison, Zeng's warnings are ridiculed before Tai Lung uses one of Zeng's feathers to easily escape. He subdues his guards before sending Zeng back. Shifu informs Oogway, who makes Shifu promise to believe in Po as the Dragon Warrior, names Shifu as his successor as the Valley's leader, and ascends into the Spirit Realm. Shifu informs Po and the Five of Tai Lung's escape and Oogway's passing, and tells Po he is the only one who can stop him. Horrified by the bad news, Po runs away, but Shifu stops him. When Shifu asks Po why he chose to stay, Po tells him that he hated who he was, and he felt that despite Shifu's harsh treatment, he still believed Shifu could change him. Po then makes Shifu admit that he does not know how to train him to be the Dragon Warrior. Tigress overhears this and leads the Five in a secret attempt to stop Tai Lung.

Meanwhile, Shifu discovers that Po is capable of impressive physical feats when motivated by food, and successfully trains Po by incorporating these feats into an innovative style of Kung Fu. The Furious Five fight Tai Lung, but he ultimately defeats them with his nerve-strike technique, leaving only Crane, who carries the rest back to the valley as a warning. Shifu decides that Po is ready to receive the Dragon Scroll. When Po opens it, he discovers that the scroll is nothing but a blank reflective surface. Believing the Scroll to have no power, Shifu has Po and the Five evacuate the inhabitants of the Valley while he faces Tai Lung alone to help everyone else escape. Trying to console a distraught Po, Mr. Ping reveals that his "secret ingredient soup" has no secret ingredient at all, explaining that things can become special with belief. Realizing that this is the message of the Dragon Scroll, Po rushes back to help Shifu.

At the Jade Palace, Tai Lung brutally defeats Shifu, but he discovers that the Scroll is missing. Po arrives with the Scroll, saving Shifu's life and prompting them to fight. Po proves to be a formidable opponent, frustrating Tai Lung with his confusing fighting techniques. Tai Lung eventually obtains the Scroll, but does not comprehend its blank surface. Tai Lung tries to take his frustrations out on Po with his nerve-strike technique. However, Tai Lung discovers that Po is immune to this. Po overpowers Tai Lung and sends him to the Spirit Realm using the legendary Wuxi Finger Hold technique, which he taught himself. Po is honored by the Valley and the Five, and relaxes with a recovered Shifu.

Voice cast

Main article: List of Kung Fu Panda characters

From left to right: Master Viper, Master Monkey, Master Mantis (on Monkey's head), Master Shifu, Master Tigress and Master Crane.

The Furious Five are homages to the actual Snake, Monkey, Praying Mantis, Tiger and Crane styles of Chinese martial arts.[5]

Kyle Gass and JR Reed voice KG Shaw and JR Shaw, respectively, two pigs who come across Po before the Dragon Warrior tournament.[6] Other actors with minor voice roles include Wayne Knight, Laura Kightlinger and Kent Osborne.[6] The film's directors, John Stevenson and Mark Osborne, also have small voice roles.[6]

Production

... we love martial arts movies. I wasn't interested in making fun of them, because I really think martial arts movies can be great films, they can be as good as any genre movie when they're done properly ...

Let's try to make it a real martial arts movie albeit one with a comic character and let's take our action seriously. Let's not give anything up to the big summer movies. Let's really make sure that our kung fu is as cool as any kung fu ever done so that we can take our place in that canon and make sure it's a beautiful movie because great martial arts movies are really beautiful-looking movies and then let's see if we can imbue it with real heart and emotion.

~co-director John Stevenson on the comedic approach to the martial arts film.[7]

DreamWorks Animation had previously produced a PlayStation video game with a similar premise, T'ai Fu: Wrath of the Tiger, in 1999 under its defunct video game division, DreamWorks Interactive (now known as Danger Close Games).[8] In spring 2004, Eric Whitacre wrote a setting of The Seal Lullaby, the opening poem of The White Seal by Rudyard Kipling, which DreamWorks intended to adapt for an animated feature. A few weeks later, it was decided to abandon the idea and start production on Kung Fu Panda instead.[9] Publicized work on the film began in October 2004.[10] In September 2005, DreamWorks announced the film alongside Jack Black, who was selected to be the main voice star.[11]

In November 2005, DreamWorks announced that Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu and Ian McShane would join Black in the cast.[12] This is also the second DreamWorks Animation film in which Black and Angelina Jolie have co-starred together (the first being 2004's Shark Tale).[13]

The idea for the film was conceived by Michael Lachance, a DreamWorks Animation executive.[14] Initially, the idea was to make it a spoof, but co-director John Stevenson was not particularly keen on it and instead chose the direction of a character-based wuxia comedy.[7]

Reportedly inspired by Stephen Chow's 2004 martial arts action comedy film, Kung Fu Hustle,[15] the directors wanted to make sure the film 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 films to help create the look of the film.[16] Zibach said that some of the biggest influences for him were the more artful martial arts films, such as Hero, House of Flying Daggers and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.[16] Stevenson's aim for the film, which took four years to make, was to make "the best looking film DreamWorks has ever made".

We've had some productions that were stressful, but this one ran very smoothly and DreamWorks is [sic] this production as a template on how they would like future productions to run. We lucked out, and there really was a sense of harmony on the animation. Even the production people. We all seemed like we were on the same page, believing in the film. That doesn't happen very often. I tell animators, you will be working on dumpers for most of your career, but every once in a while you get a gem. Kung Fu Panda was a gem.

~Dan Wagner, Head of Character Animation.[17]

The hand-drawn animation sequence at the beginning of the film was made to resemble Chinese shadow puppetry.[18] The opening, which was directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and produced by James Baxter, was praised by The New York Times reviewer Manohla Dargis as "striking" and "visually different from most mainstream American animations".[19]

Other reviewers have compared the opening to the evocative style of Genndy Tartakovsky's Cartoon Network series Samurai Jack.[20][21] The rest of the film is modern computer animation, which uses bright, offbeat colors to evoke the natural landscape of China.[18] The end credit sequence also features hand-drawn characters and still paintings in the background.[18]

The computer animation used throughout the film was more complex than anything DreamWorks had done before. When the head of the 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 by 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?"[22] In preparation, the animators took a six-hour kung fu class.[23]

Producer Melissa Cobb said that Po was originally "more of a jerk", but that the character changed after they heard Black.[23] According to Black, he worked mostly "in isolation", although he and Dustin Hoffman did spend a day together, which Cobb said helped with the scene in which their characters face off.[23] Lucy Liu said that the film "was quite different because it was such a long process".[24] Liu said that when she was presented with the project, they already had artwork of her character, as well as a "short computerized video version of what she would look like when she moved".[24]

Release

Theatrical

The film held its world premiere at the 61st Cannes Film Festival May 15, 2008,[25] where it received massive and sustained applause at the end of the film's screening.[26] Kung Fu Panda later had national premieres in IMAX in the US June 1, 2008, at AMC and Regal Cinemas in Hollywood, California,[27] and in the UK June 26, 2008, at Leicester Square in London.[28]

Home media

Kung Fu Panda was released on DVD and Blu-ray November 9, 2008,[29] and on 3D Blu-ray December 6, 2011, as a Best Buy exclusive.[30] The DVD double-disc release of Kung Fu Panda also includes the short animated film, Secrets of the Furious Five.[29] The film was released on 4K UHD March 12, 2024, and included the short film Secrets of the Scroll.[31]

With 7,486,642 DVD units sold in 2008, Kung Fu Panda was the fourth highest-selling film and the highest-selling animated film of 2008, above WALL-E, which sold 7,413,548 units.[32] As of February 2010, 17.4 million home entertainment units were sold worldwide.[33]

Reception

Box office

The film topped the box office in its opening weekend, grossing $60.2 million for a $14,642 average from 4,114 theaters,[34] and performing much better than analysts had been expecting.[35] It was also the highest-grossing opening for a non-sequel DreamWorks Animation film at the time.[35] In its second weekend, the film retreated 44% to second place behind The Incredible Hulk, grossing $33.6 million, for a $8,127 average, from expanding to 4,136 theaters.[36] It closed October 9, 2008, after 125 days of release, grossing $215.4 million in the United States and Canada, and $416.3 million overseas, for a worldwide total of $631.7 million.[3] Kung Fu Panda was the highest-grossing non-Shrek film from DreamWorks Animation in the United States and Canada before it was surpassed by How to Train Your Dragon in 2010.[37]

Critical response

Rotten Tomatoes reports that 87% of 190 reviewers gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 7.1/10. The website's consensus reads: "Kung Fu Panda has a familiar message, but the pleasing mix of humor, swift martial arts action, and colorful animation makes for winning summer entertainment."[38] At Metacritic, the film has an average score of 74 out of 100, based on 36 reviews.[39] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A−" on a scale of A+ to F.[40]

Richard Corliss of Time magazine gave Kung Fu Panda a positive review, stating the picture "provides a master course in cunning visual art and ultra-satisfying entertainment".[41]

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".[19]

Chris Barsanti of Filmcritic.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."[42]

Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune called the film "one of the few comedies of 2008 in any style or genre that knows what it's doing".[43]

However, Tom Charity of CNN criticized the action for tending "to blur into a whirlwind of slapstick chaos", and considered the character of Po too similar to others played by Black.[44]

Peter Howell of The Toronto Star awarded the film two and a half stars, considering it to have a "lack of story" that "frequently manages to amuse, if not entirely to delight".[45]

Kung Fu Panda was also well received in China.[46] It made nearly 110 million yuan by July 2, 2008, becoming the first animated film to earn more than 100 million yuan in China.[47][48] The Chinese director Lu Chuan commented, "From a production standpoint, the movie is nearly perfect. Its American creators showed a very sincere attitude about Chinese culture."[49][50] The film's critical and commercial success in China led to some local introspection about why no film like Kung Fu Panda had been produced in China, with commentators attributing the problem variously to lower film budgets in China, too much government oversight, a dearth of national imagination, and an overly reverent attitude to China's history and cultural icons.[51][52][53]

The Slovenian philosopher, cultural theorist and public intellectual, Slavoj Žižek, offered an admiration of Kung Fu Panda when he was invited to the talk show, Charlie Rose.[54]

Accolades

Kung Fu Panda was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature[55] and the Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Feature Film.[56] Jack Black joked about the film's underdog status at the 81st Academy Awards, saying, "Each year, I do one DreamWorks project, then I take all the money to the Oscars and bet it on Pixar."[57]

By contrast, Kung Fu Panda won ten Annie Awards (including Best Animated Feature) out of sixteen nominations, which sparked controversy, with some accusing DreamWorks head Jeffrey Katzenberg of rigging the vote by buying ASIFA-Hollywood memberships (with voting power) for everyone at DreamWorks Animation.[58]

Awards
Award Category Name Outcome
Academy Awards[55] Best Animated Feature John Stevenson
Mark Osborne
Nominated
Annie Awards[59][60] Best Animated Effects in an Animated Production Li-Ming 'Lawrence' Lee Won
Best Animated Feature Won
Best Character Animation in a Feature Production James Baxter Won
Philippe Le Brun Nominated
Dan Wagner Nominated
Best Character Design in an Animated Feature Production Nico Marlet Won
Best Directing in an Animated Feature Production John Stevenson
Mark Osborne
Won
Best Music in an Animated Feature Production Hans Zimmer
John Powell
Won
Best Production Design in an Animated Feature Production Tang Kheng Heng Won
Raymond Zibach Nominated
Best Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production Jennifer Yuh Nelson Won
Alessandro Carloni Nominated
Best Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production Dustin Hoffman Won
James Hong Nominated
Ian McShane Nominated
Best Writing in an Animated Feature Production Jonathan Aibel
Glenn Berger
Won
ASCAP Award Top Box Office Films Hans Zimmer and John Powell Won
Critics' Choice Awards[61] Best Animated Feature Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[62] Best Animated Feature Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[56] Best Animated Feature Film Nominated
Golden Tomato Awards 2008[63] Best Animated Feature Kung Fu Panda 2nd Place
Wide Release 5th Place
Golden Reel Awards[64][65] Best Sound Editing: Sound Effects, Foley, Dialogue and
ADR Animation in a Feature Film
Ethan Van Der Ryn
Erik Aadahl
Mike Hopkins
Jonathan Klein
Adam Milo Smalley
Peter Oso Snell
Wayne Lemmer
Paul Pirola
P.K. Hooker
Dan O'Connell
John Cucci
Nominated
Golden Trailer Awards Best Animation/Family Nominated
Huabiao Awards Outstanding Translated Film Won
National Movie Awards[66] Best Family Film Nominated
Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards[67][68] Favorite Voice from an Animated Movie Jack Black Won
Favorite Animated Movie Nominated
Online Film Critics Society[69] Best Animated Film Nominated
Producers Guild of America[70] Animated Motion Picture Melissa Cobb Nominated
People's Choice Awards[71] Favorite Family Movie Nominated
Teen Choice Awards[72] Choice Summer Movie: Comedy Nominated
Visual Effects Society[73] Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Motion Picture Jack Black
Dan Wagner
Nico Marlet
Peter Farson
Nominated
Outstanding Animation in an Animated Motion Picture Markus Manninen
Dan Wagner
Alex Parkinson
Raymond Zibach
Nominated
Outstanding Effects Animation in an Animated Motion Picture Markus Manninen
Alex Parkinson
Amaury Aubel
Li-Ming 'Lawrence' Lee
Nominated

Soundtrack

Main article: Kung Fu Panda (soundtrack)

As with most DreamWorks animated movies, composer Hans Zimmer scored Kung Fu Panda. Zimmer visited China to absorb the culture, and got to know the Chinese National Symphony as part of his preparation. Timbaland also contributed to the soundtrack.[74] 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. In some versions, the end credit was sung by Rain.[citation needed] Although Zimmer was originally announced as the main composer of the film, CEO of DreamWorks Animation SKG Jeffrey Katzenberg announced during a test screening that composer John Powell would also be contributing to the score. This marked the first collaboration in eight years for the two, who had previously worked together on DreamWorks's The Road to El Dorado and the action-thriller Chill Factor. The soundtrack album was released by Interscope Records June 3, 2008.[75]

Spin-offs

Manga

A manga based on the film was released in Japan in Kerokero Ace magazine's September 2008 issue.[76] It was written by Hanten Okuma and illustrated by Takafumi Adachi.[77]

Television series

A television series titled Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness aired on Nickelodeon, with its premiere September 19, 2011.[78] From the cast of Kung Fu Panda, only Lucy Liu and James Hong reprised their roles of Master Viper and Mr. Ping, respectively.[79] In the series, Po continues to defend the Valley of Peace from all kinds of villains while making mistakes, learning about the history of kung fu, and meeting other kung fu masters. In the United States, the series ended its run June 29, 2016, with a total of three seasons and 80 episodes. However, prior to premiering in the U.S., the final few episodes premiered in Germany from December 30, 2014, to January 7, 2015.[citation needed]

Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny is an animated web-television series produced by DreamWorks Animation, released for Amazon Prime November 16, 2018. It is the second TV series in the Kung Fu Panda franchise, following Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness. Mick Wingert reprised his role as Po from Legends of Awesomeness.[80]

A third series, also set after Kung Fu Panda 3, titled Kung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight, premiered on Netflix in July 2022, with Jack Black reprising his role as Po.[81]

Holiday special

The television holiday special, titled Kung Fu Panda Holiday, aired on NBC Wednesday, November 24, 2010.[82]

Video game

Main article: Kung Fu Panda (video game)

A video game adaptation of the film was published June 3, 2008, by Activision.[83] The game was released for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS and PC platforms. The plot follows the same basic plot as the film, but with Tai Lung portrayed as the leader of various gangs that surround the Valley of Peace, which Po, who possesses some basic martial art skills that can be upgraded as the game progresses, must defeat. The game was released for Microsoft Windows, as well as multiple consoles.

The game received mostly positive reviews. It scored a Metacritic rating of 76%,[84] and a 7.5 out of 10 from IGN.[85] In 2009, it won the International Animated Film Society's Annie Award for Best Animated Video Game, "in recognition of creative excellence in the art of animation".[86]

Sequels

Further information: Kung Fu Panda

Following the financial success of Kung Fu Panda, DreamWorks Animation began development on a sequel.[87] Kung Fu Panda 2 surpassed the box-office take of the first film,[88] and received a similarly positive critical and audience response.[89] A third film, Kung Fu Panda 3, was released in 2016,[90] becoming one of the highest-grossing films of 2016.[91] Kung Fu Panda 4 released on March 8, 2024.[92]

Literature

Lawsuits

DreamWorks Animation was sued in 2011 by a writer, Terence Dunn, for allegedly stealing the idea for Kung Fu Panda from him.[93] Dunn alleged that DreamWorks Animation had stolen his pitch for a "spiritual kung-fu fighting panda bear" that he sent to a DreamWorks executive in 2001.[93] DreamWorks Animation denied any wrongdoing, and after a two-week trial, the jurors found in favor of DreamWorks.[93]

In 2011, another lawsuit was brought against the studio by an illustrator named Jayme Gordon. Gordon had supposedly created characters under the name "Kung Fu Panda Power" and registered them with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2000.[94] He had allegedly pitched this concept to Disney while Jeffrey Katzenberg, who left Disney and formed DreamWorks Animation in 1994, was working there. Gordon withdrew his claim just before the trial was due to take place.[95] On December 20, 2015, federal prosecutors charged Gordon with four counts of wire fraud and three counts of perjury for allegedly fabricating and backdating drawings to support the claims in his lawsuit, and for allegedly tracing some of his drawings from a coloring book featuring characters from Disney's The Lion King franchise.[96] On November 18, 2016, Gordon was convicted for wire fraud and perjury, facing a sentence of up to 25 years in prison.[97] In May 2017, he was sentenced to two years in federal prison and ordered to pay $3 million in restitution.[98]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ In 2018, the film's distribution rights were transferred from Paramount Pictures to Universal Pictures.

References

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