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KUNG FU PANDA 2

Mysteries OF The Dragon Warrior Revealed
Screenwriters Aibel and Berger had joined filmmakers on the first film to focus the story—with the whole of a fictitious ancient China and a pantheon of kung fu characters to choose from, early work on the screenplay had produced an almost embarrassing amount of riches. It was Aibel and Berger's job to refine the story, bring it back to Po and his legacy, and help define the story's tone. As their final script did just that, their services were retained to pen "Kung Fu Panda 2,” as both writers and co-producers.

Cobb offers, "When you become enmeshed in the development of a character, there is no ‘stopping place.' We always imagined we had more story to tell with the continuation of Po and his journey.”

Aibel claims, "When you love your work as much as Glenn and I loved working on Po and Shifu and all the others, your brain is constantly churning out story possibilities—and since we were there when the groundwork was laid, we know the characters inside and out, so getting to take them further is another great day at the office.”

Berger offers, "Just as Po is getting comfortable in his new role as Dragon Warrior and leader of the Furious Five, a turn of events takes place leading Po to ask questions he never thought to ask. Where did he come from? How did he get there? And why is his dad a goose and he's a panda? And unfortunately, Dad doesn't have much to offer by way of answers for Po. So Po spends the rest of the movie trying to answer those questions—and what he discovers will change their relationship forever.”

When work began in earnest on the first film, there was no parental figure for Po. As the story developed, the writers felt that such a role was necessary for the panda's story. So how did they choose Mr. Ping, the goose, for fatherhood? As Jonathan Aibel explains, "The obvious choice would be to just give Po a panda dad, but we always knew we wanted Po to be the only panda in the village.”

Glenn Berger picks up, "So we asked the animators, ‘What do you have?' And we saw there were bunnies, there were ducks and there was this goose. And we thought, ‘What if the goose was his dad? But how could that be?' Then that just led to all these questions—maybe Po doesn't know that this is not his biological father, or maybe he does know? It basically forced us to make a more unusual choice, and I think we then all got to explore what would happen if Ping were Po's father. In the end, I think it made for a more interesting movie.”

For Jack Black, returning to the character of Po was a chance to spend more time with one of his most beloved characters. Thanks to Po, Black had the chance to kick off the 2008 Cannes Film Festival ("Kung Fu Panda” was the first film screened), by leading a parade of marchers dressed in panda costumes.

Black recalls another unique opportunity his relationship with Po afforded him: "A few months ago, I got to go to the Atlanta Zoo, and see the latest panda born in captivity…and they named him Po. Wow. I'd say that's a pretty big deal. He's not ready for a throw-down yet, but give him time. He's gonna be one heck of a panda, I just know it.”

Black recalls, "When I finally saw the whole thing put together (Kung Fu Panda) it was one of the proudest moments of my career. It takes many years to make one of these movies - a lot longer than a regular live-action film. There's much more work that goes into it - story development, artwork, particularly the way the DreamWorks Animation filmmakers work on their films.”

But for the actor, it was also a chance to bring more of his character to light. "Now, Po is having flashbacks of his childhood, before he lived with his father, who's a goose. So he comes to realize that he's actually adopted, and he doesn't know where his birth parents are or what happened to the other pandas. Why did they give him up? So in addition to this being a hero's journey to save the day, it's also a journey of self-discovery.”

For even the most casual of observers, it's evident that Mr. Ping, a noodle-making goose, is not Po's biological father, but the story does address exactly what makes a parent. Per Black: "Once Po suspects that he's adopted, he confronts his father, who admits that he found him when he was a baby. But he raised him as his son, and he considers him his son. Po believes that, too, but he still wants some questions answered. And it just so happens that these questions arise at the same time that a new villain, Lord Shen, the peacock, arrives on the scene. Mysterious, no?”

Black, who gained a much deeper appreciation of martial arts due to his involvement with the franchise, admits to practicing kung fu: "Yes, I did some training in kung fu, for both films. It wasn't just for research purposes, it was also to kind of get in shape. What really drew me is that there's a combination of exercise and self-defense, along with a third, sort of unseen, component: a spiritual one. When you're really practicing kung fu, living it and feeling it, there's a meditative quality that seeps in. It feels almost religious. It's an art form, really. Oh, well, duh, it's called martial arts.”

Now a package deal, the Dragon Warrior comes with the Furious Five—and writers Aibel and Berger were more than happy to welcome the entire gang back. Per Berger: "In the first film, we were busy telling the story of Po's training with Shifu, so we didn't get as much time as we wanted to with the Furious Five. But now, we have the great opportunity to have them along on this journey with Po and have them in more scenes, which meant more time to write for Angelina [Tigress], Jackie [Monkey], Seth [Mantis], Lucy [Viper] and David [Crane]. For any writer, any one of those would be enough. But to have five of them along in all these scenes is just a great opportunity for us.”

As Tigress, perhaps the most accomplished fighter of the Furious Five, Angelina Jolie was also happy to return, and like Black, was enthusiastic when she found out that her character would be undergoing some changes as well. Jolie says, "First and foremost, Tigress is a fighter, and she's out to get the bad guy. But what's nice about this story is that she has a bit of a breakthrough and learns to be nicer. Her pride was wounded when she was not chosen to be the Dragon Warrior, and it took her a while to get over being angry at Po and the universe, in general.”

The writers enthusiastically created new facets in Tigress that gave Jolie more to explore this time around: "What if Tigress had this softer side to her? To be able to give that to Angelina and see what she did with it was great to witness. Sometimes, it takes an animated character to show a different side of an actor. As a voice performer, you're free from people's expectations of what they've seen from you in live-action films.”

"She's such a pure, beautiful character,” the actress continues. "She was written with such an interesting history. She comes from an orphanage, she grows up not knowing her own strength or understanding herself—but then she grows into this very strong woman, the others call her ‘hardcore.' But she just doesn't have the ability to access her softer side and emotions—maybe a measure of self-protection. And I think that's why some people identify with her.”

When asked why she feels the first film was so successful (and the reason why the cinematic tale is continuing), Jolie observes, "The movie was so fun and cool and hip, but it also had a sense of history and culture. It was also this moral tale of how to behave, how to treat your friends, which makes it more like a classic animated film. But mostly, it has Jack Black,

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