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Becoming Your Own Hero
Whether it's an ogre trying to regain what is rightfully his or a group of displaced zoo animals finding their way back home, audiences — of all ages — love to root for the underdog. Anyone who has ever struggled against the odds empathizes with the heroes in these entertaining and morally resonant tales. So how about a panda who dreams of becoming a kung fu master?

That's right, a plump, drowsy, huggable black-and-white bear who has one, and only one, aspiration in life – to become an expert in a martial art that relies on agility, mental prowess and lightning-fast reflexes. It's a formidable, some would say foolhardy, quest. But isn't that what heroism is all about?

When directors John Stevenson and Mark Osborne and producer Melissa Cobb were presented with this unlikely storyline, they immediately responded. The obstacle- strewn journey of Po, the "Kung Fu Panda,” touched a chord in each of them.

Director John Stevenson begins, "We're all parents, you know? I have two daughters and Mark and Melissa have kids. We wanted the film to have something that our kids could take away. ‘Be your own hero,' which means don't look outside of yourself for the answer. Don't expect someone else to make things right. You are empowered to achieve anything you want, if you set your mind to it. Be the best that you can be.”

"It was important to all of us, from the start,” Osborne continues, "that ‘Kung Fu Panda' would have a theme, a positive message that we really believed in. We wanted it to be a fun experience loaded with comedy and great action. But we also wanted there to be a takeaway that we all believed was a good one.”

Stevenson picks up, "So, in essence, we knew where we wanted to go, but perhaps even more importantly, we also knew how we wanted to get there. We were really aiming to craft a film that had a timelessness to it — while the story is set in our version of ancient China, the tale doesn't only apply to those characters at that time. The greatest stories are timeless. And we clearly wanted ours to have that quality…a classic hero's journey. Of course, the film would be entertaining, and fun, and the fighting will be cool. But our goal all along was not just to make one of those bright, shiny summer movies — we think Po and his journey, along with all of these appealing characters and inventive visuals, well, we were always striving to take it beyond that kind of film.” In deciding that the tale of a panda pursuing his dream would provide both entertainment and a message, filmmakers were actually out to create a fable of sorts — and even the genesis of "Kung Fu Panda” sounded like the beginning of some ancient Chinese fable.

"I was directing a TV show at DreamWorks called ‘Father of the Pride,'” says director John Stevenson, a seasoned story artist and illustrator who previously worked with Jim Henson and joined DreamWorks in 1999. "While I was prepping the season finale, I was asked if I wanted to work on a project called ‘Kung Fu Panda.' So, I went to look it over. I loved kung fu movies from when I was growing up in the ‘70s, as well as the ‘Kung Fu' television show with David Carradine. I thought it would be an interesting challenge, so I immediately said, ‘Yes.'”

Stevenson says he was looking for an alternative to some of the more formulaic ‘talking animal' movies of recent years. Something about the concept of "Kung Fu Panda” struck a chord with him. In many ways, it reminded him of the feelings that stirred inside him a decade earlier, when he was working on another project at PDI/DreamWorks — a film few had paid attention to (at first), but which also inspired a passionate commitment from its talent and filmmakers. That little movie was called "Shrek.”

A few years before "Shrek” was released and made animation history, another filmmaker named

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