Inside 'Kung Fu' Panda

Character Development

A stunned Furious Five are left in the wake of Tai Lung, as the vengeful snow leopard makes his way toward the Valley of Peace.
A stunned Furious Five are left in the wake of Tai Lung, as the vengeful snow leopard makes his way toward the Valley of Peace.
DreamWorks Animation LLC

Jack Black was the directors’ first choice for the role of Po, which changed somewhat once he came aboard. "Originally, the character was a bit snarker, but Jack revealed to us this sweet, vulnerable side," explains Stevenson. "Po became this charming, innocent, goodhearted character, and revealed a side of Jack that you haven’t seen in a lot of his films. I think it makes Po very memorable and guy you root for."

Black has voiced animated characters before in "Shark Tale" and "Ice Age," but "Kung Fu Panda" is the first time he’s using his natural voice. He had his misgivings about signing on because of that, "but when they showed me some of the artwork and told me the basic story of the movie it just sounded too good to pass up," he says. Plus, it was an easy gig: "No makeup, no costumes, and no waiting around all day for them to set up the lights and focus the cameras," he points out.

In the recording studio, "They were filming me just in case I did some funny moves that they wanted to copy. They use my movements as a reference," notes Black. He recorded alone for the most part, but did one session with Dustin Hoffman. "All the dialogue for the chopstick fight came out of that session. Dustin was trying to be as funny as Jack and Jack was trying to be as serious as Dustin so it was amazing to see that dynamic," says Osbourne. "Jack’s got a great imagination and he can just be at the mike and get there really easily. It was a little bit harder for Dustin and putting him together with Jack actually helped him a lot in solidifying who that character was and what the dynamic was."

Black immediately related to several aspects of Po. "The daydreaming -- I share that with him. And the insecurity -- it reminds me of my early days in acting when I didn’t have a lot going on career-wise." Another lure for him was making a movie his children can see. The father of one young son and another child on the way, Black notes, "in a few years they will be watching cartoons and I will be able to show them one that I am in."

The family-friendly "School of Rock" made him realize that he "could be funny without dropping F-bombs," and although his next release is the R-rated comedy "Tropic Thunder," due out in August, Black says he now feels more comfortable doing movies that are strictly for a family-oriented audience. "Before, I thought it would hurt my indie cred in the rock world," he notes, referencing his Tenacious D musical persona. "I don’t really care about that now."

He’s also on board with the movie’s positive, empowering take-away. "It’s got a nice message about following your dreams and staying true to who you are and not being embarrassed about who you are," Black says. "The ‘believe in yourself’ message isn’t original," acknowledges Stevenson, "but we’d rather have some positive take away from the movie. We wanted to make a real martial arts movie that would have funny stuff in it but real emotion and very cool action that could go up against the summer movies we were going to be playing against," he continues. "Even though it’s called ‘Kung Fu Panda’ there’s no reason it can’t be beautiful, funny, emotional and have great action and a great message."

For more information on "Kung Fu Panda," animated movies and related topics, follow the links below.

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  • John Stevenson and Mark Osbourne interviewed February 4, 2008
  • Jack Black interviewed February 17, 2008