Metro In Focus: Kung Fu Panda directors riding a wave of Po-pularity
By Richard Crouse – Metro In Focus
It’s all about Po, don’t you know.
When I ask Kung Fu Panda 2 and 3 director Jennifer Yuh Nelson how she feels about being one of the highest grossing female directors of all time, she demurs and gives all the credit to her star.
“I think it is a testament to how much people like Po and like these films. There is such a huge fan base it is really flattering to have been helming something that huge.”
Alessandro Carloni, her directing partner on Kung Fu Panda 3, adds, “I think it will be fair to assume this will be the highest grossing movie ever to be directed by a Korean woman and an Italian man.”
For the uninitiated, Po is the clumsy giant panda that became an improbable hero, dumpling-eating champion and kung fu master in the first two movies. Voiced by Jack Black, in the new film he is reunited with his biological father Li Shan (Bryan Cranston) who takes his son back to the Panda Village so the youngster can learn about himself, become a Chi master and do battle with Kai, a supernatural bull villain played by Oscar winner J.K. Simmons.
Both directors have great affection for Po and understand why audiences have fallen in love with the character.
“We love how enthusiastic he is, how geeky he is, how much passion he has,” says Alessandro. “One thing I have heard someone say is often there are movies where the side cast steals the show because they are the most fun while the central character is the straight guy. But we made a movie around a goofball and everybody else are the straight characters. He is the one who steals the show. When Po is on screen you will love him.”
“He has got so much enthusiasm and is basically wishing for something that is bigger than him,” says Yuh. “Something he is not able to achieve and yet he perseveres. That’s why we root for him because we’ve been there. Everyone has been there where there is something you wish you could do but don’t have the means to do it and yet you keep on going. You have to root for that.”
The pair have been with Po for a long time. Yuh was head of story and the action sequence supervisor on Kung Fu Panda before taking over the reins for the second film. Carloni worked on the first film as animation supervisor and story artist on part two.
Their almost 10-year journey with Po has been shared with Jack Black, who was the model for the character.
“He’s very unique in that he’s so funny but underneath the funny he’s got so much heart,” says Yuh of Black.
“He’s not somebody you laugh at, you laugh with him. You root for him and that is very rare. Usually you have these more jaded guys that are funny and you laugh at them when they fall on their face. But you feel bad for this guy when he falls on his face. I think that just leaks out of his performance.”