Kicking Back
Barbara Robertson
May 25, 2011

Kicking Back

DreamWorks Animation pushes its star CG panda into deeper trouble in Kung Fu Panda 2 
Poor Po. In Kung Fu Panda, he finally achieved his dream to fight alongside the Furious Five, who protect the Peaceful Valley with their unique styles of kung fu, and what happens? The people at DreamWorks Animation bring Po back for Kung Fu Panda 2 and give him a new villain, a treacherous albino peacock named Lord Shen, who commands an army of brutal wolves. Worse, the nasty bird is manufacturing a new secret weapon in his family’s fireworks factory, a weapon designed to destroy kung fu. So, take that, aspiring kung fu master.

“It’s an animated film, so we can do what we want,” says director Jennifer Yuh-Nelson. “Po is still the same guy. He doesn’t change into kung fu dude. But everything he believes in is in danger.”  

Yuh-Nelson, who was head of story for Kung Fu Panda, brought back most of the cast and crew from the first film to help Po battle the latest villain. Jack Black again voices Po, Dustin Hoffman is master Shifu, and Seth Rogan (Mantis), Angelina Jolie (Tigress), Jackie Chan (Monkey), David Cross (Crane), and Lucy Liu (Viper) are the Furious Five. Joining the voice cast is Gary Oldman as the peacock Lord Shen.

But the story has an emotional side, as well. “We’ve met the characters, so we have the opportunity to get to know them in more depth,” Yuh-Nelson says. “It’s a sweet, heartfelt story.” A story that plays out on a far bigger stage in this film—emotionally and physically.

“We had the opportunity to add more scale and ingredients because of technical advances,” Yuh-Nelson says. “We didn’t reinvent the look; we stayed true to the first film. But, we expanded the playground. For the first film, we fleshed out more of the world than we let on. In this film, we get to see characters and backgrounds, and parts of the environment we didn’t get to play with. The characters start in the same place, but we widen the scope.”

Yuh-Nelson singles out three areas in which technical advances allowed them to broaden and deepen the kind of movie they made. First, Lord Shen. “We could never have done that guy in the first film,” she says. “He’s so complicated. He moves fluidly, but he’s complicated.”

Second, the playground. “In the first film, we had to cheat the distance people traveled because we didn’t have the ability to make an environment beyond a certain size,” Yuh-Nelson says. “The limitation was a few blocks at most. Now we can make an entire city, so we can have a character run from one side of the city to the other. And, we could increase the number of characters in a shot.”

Third, stereo 3D. “We didn’t do stereo 3D for the first film, so the environment is more immersive in this film,” Yuh-Nelson says. “And, the action is enhanced by the 3D aspect.”

To read the full story, which greatly details this work, see the cover story in the May issue of CGW.

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