Unlike its predecessors, “Kung Fu Panda 3” is a Chinese-American co-production, which co-directors Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh Nelson and co-producer Melissa Cobb — who recently visited The City to promote the movie — found amazingly beneficial.
The team, which worked together harmoniously, produced a separate, Mandarin-language version of the film, and had new access to all kinds of information.
Carloni says, “In the first movie, the artists did a lot of research, but at some point, it was: ‘Does this building look like a hospital? We don’t know what we’re doing!’ Now we simply pick up the phone and ask.”
“It’s nothing you can find on Google,” adds Cobb.
Carloni says Chinese artists created patterns that could be turned into virtual cloth for clothing, or virtual wood for buildings. “If you freeze-frame it and zoom all the way into the background, it’s authentic,” he says.
“It all has meaning,” Yuh Nelson adds.
Yet the filmmakers chose to emphasize beauty over realism, focusing on style, colors and emotions. The movie includes hand-drawn cell animation as well as a fantastic sequence in the “spirit world.”
“That was frightening, because there’s a lot of vertical space, and no ground plane,” says Yuh Nelson. “You can make realistic far more easily than you can graphic. It’s all crazy.”
In the new movie, the villainous, bull-like Kai (voiced by J.K. Simmons) threatens, while Po meets his birth father (voiced by Bryan Cranston), and heads to the hidden panda village to learn about who he really is.
Carloni says that having a father in the story, rather than a mother, allows for more “goofballing.”
“Dads screw up more,” he says.
“If the mom was there, she would have taken care of it,” adds Yuh Nelson.
The filmmakers have the highest praise for the actors, marveling at how Simmons got the biggest laughs during the first screenings, and how Cranston was able to record a funny line and an emotional line (complete with tears) back-to-back.
Even Jack Black, the voice of Po, has become more of a partner on the series.
“It used to be we’d have to have it all figured out before we called in Jack Black, but now we can just call him,” says Carloni.
“He’s very patient with us,” Cobb adds.
Perhaps their favorite collaborator, however, lived at the Chengdu Research Base in China.
“We were given the honor of holding a baby panda,” says Yuh Nelson. “The one we held was about the size of a basketball. The fur is coarser than you might think… they are just a sleepy mass of muscle, and so fuzzy!”
IF YOU GO
Kung Fu Panda 3
Starring: Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, J.K. Simmons, Angelina Jolie (voices)
Written by: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
Directed by: Alessandro Carloni, Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes