Dreamworks released the highly anticipated first trailer for “Kung Fu Panda 4,” the latest installment in their beloved animated franchise. It’s been seven years since we last saw Jack Black’s Po in “Kung Fu Panda 3,” and the new trailer promises another action-packed edition. “We have made the most epic chapter of this franchise,” director Mike Mitchell teased. He and producer Rebecca Huntley discussed prioritizing the theatrical experience, aiming to give the audience a big-screen-worthy spectacle. Mike explained, “We’re not a streaming service. We want to do the theatrical release and get people into the theaters.
Jack Black returns as Po, along with returning favorites and new characters. “We really did bring back every character that you’ve seen in every ‘Kung Fu Panda’ film previously. But we’ve also got loads of new characters.” Joining the franchise for the first time is Academy Award winner Viola Davis, portraying the villainous Chameleon, along with Academy Award winner Ke Huy Quan as a pangolin named Han. The film will be released in theaters on March 8th, 2024.
Plot Synopsis: After three death-defying adventures defeating world-class villains with his unmatched courage and mad martial arts skills, Po, the Dragon Warrior (Golden Globe nominee Jack Black), is called upon by destiny to … give it a rest already. More specifically, he’s tapped to become the Spiritual Leader of the Valley of Peace. That poses a couple of obvious problems. First, Po knows as much about spiritual leadership as he does about the paleo diet, and second, he needs to quickly find and train a new Dragon Warrior before he can assume his new lofty position. Even worse, there’s been a recent sighting of a wicked, powerful sorceress, Chameleon (Oscar winner Viola Davis), a tiny lizard who can shapeshift into any creature, large or small. And Chameleon has her greedy, beady little eyes on Po’s Staff of Wisdom, which would give her the power to re-summon all the master villains whom Po has vanquished to the spirit realm. So, Po’s going to need some help. He finds it (kinda?) in the form of crafty, quick-witted thief Zhen (Golden Globe winner Awkwafina), a corsac fox who really gets under Po’s fur but whose skills will prove invaluable. In their quest to protect the Valley of Peace from Chameleon’s reptilian claws, this comedic odd-couple duo will have to work together. In the process, Po will discover that heroes can be found in the most unexpected places.
What do you all think of the trailer? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or our Twitter account.
In an exclusive conversation for the trailer release, Next Best Picture spoke with “Kung Fu Panda 4” director Mike Mitchell and producer Rebecca Huntley about tackling this sequel and what audiences can look forward to.
Mike and Rebecca. Thank you guys for taking the time to chat! I love the trailer for “Kung Fu Panda 4.” I am very excited to see more.
Mike Mitchell: That’s not just the best parts, by the way. We don’t do that. There’s more. There are twists and turns. Don’t worry. We didn’t just blow it all in the trailer.
All right, good! I’m glad to hear it. So, Mike, you were an executive producer on “Kung Fu Panda 3.” Rebecca, I believe this is your first time on a “Kung Fu Panda” project.
Rebecca: Yes, correct.
What drew you both to the world of “Kung Fu Panda?”
Rebecca: For me, it was because I hadn’t worked on a Kung Fu Panda because it is a beloved franchise. I love the Panda movies. So, how could you say no? When they asked if I would come on to this show, I was like, “Heck yeah.”
Mike: Pretty big franchise.
Rebecca: Yeah. Giant franchise. And how do you say no to Po?
Mike: For me, it was, I’m so old. I worked on all of these. I started off on the first “Kung Fu Panda.” I’ve worked on a few franchises here as a director, the last “Shrek” film and the first “Trolls” film, and I’ve done “The Lego Movie: The Second Part” and “SpongeBob.” But the thing about this one, in particular, was that they really came up with a story that nailed it. You don’t want to just make another one.
We’re not a streaming service. We want to do the theatrical release and get people into the theaters. They want to be there because we’re making another one that deserves to be made. You want to see what Po’s next move is, and we’re going to build upon the previous films. And so it took a while, but it wasn’t until we nailed the story and got a theme for Po. Po’s got to learn something and evolve because he’s always got to level up, right? You can’t just phone it in, right?
The third thing that got me that made me say I’ve got to be a part of this, was when we came up with the Chameleon as the villain. I think these “Kung Fu Panda” villains are the best villains DreamWorks has ever done. Specifically, Tai Lung, hands down. The best villain in any animated DreamWorks film is in the “Kung Fu Panda” franchise, and we got such a good one on this one that I was like, “I can’t wait.”
I absolutely want to ask more about the Chameleon. But we have to start with Po. He’s the star of the show. It’s been seven years since the last film. What’s he been up to since the last movie?
Mike: He got everything he ever wanted. He’s the Dragon warrior. He is kicking butt and taking names. He’s fighting for justice. He’s just putting villains away and living his best life. And so that’s what he’s been doing when we catch up with him. But you know what? It’s time for him to evolve. And as crazy as it sounds, everyone thought it was crazy for a big portly panda to become the Dragon Warrior. But now they want him to become a spiritual leader like Master Oogway. First of all, he thinks that’s boring, and second, he doesn’t want to do it. Those are big shoes to fill, and he wants to keep kicking butt and taking names.
So that’s where we meet him. And part of our theme is change. We think it’s really relatable to all ages. It’s very intimidating for a kid to go from grade school to junior high. It’s terrifying. But we’re trying to present to people, and we’re learning ourselves that moving on can be a wonderful thing. You’re not losing who you were. You’re not changing yourself, just like Po didn’t have to change himself to become the Dragon Warrior. So that’s our theme. You become something more than you already are. It’s not something to be feared.
And, of course, there’s the villainous Chameleon. Are you able to reveal who the voice is?
Mike: Who do you think it is?
It sounded very much like Viola Davis.
Mike: Got it! It is Viola Davis. And, like I said, she is the smallest villain who has ever gone up against. But Viola brings such a big voice to her.
Rebecca: She’s so powerful. And we’re so excited because she is this diminutive little chameleon, yet you have the power of Viola Davis. It’s our first female villain in the franchise. So here, you’ve just got this really clever villain.
Mike: She’s smarter than all the other villains. Calculating.
Rebecca: So don’t underestimate her. You might see this small chameleon, but she has got this shapeshifting sorcery.
Mike: She’s more supernatural than any of the villains in the past. It’s really cool.
Rebecca: She’s a force to be reckoned with.
And we see her stealing the power from Tai Lung, and maybe glimpses of doing the same to Po later on. Are other villains from the franchise going to show their ugly heads?
Mike: I don’t want to give anything away! I don’t want to say yes or no, but it’s very likely I’ll say it’s possible.
In addition to Viola Davis joining the cast, Awkwafina is also there as Zhen. Do you have any other new cast members that you can tell us about?
Mike: We do! Po travels to this new location he’s never been to before. It’s Juniper City, and it’s the most crowded city in the world, crammed with all sorts of animals of all shapes and sizes. But he has to team up to take down the villain. He’s got to team up with a group of criminals.
Rebecca: We have the Den of Thieves leader, and he’s this pangolin named Han, voiced by Academy Award winner Ke Huy Quan.
Mike: Ke Huy Quan is playing against type but is still charming.
Rebecca: That’s what’s so fascinating, right? He’s this pangolin. He rolls up into a ball like a bowling ball. He walks around the pipes in the underbelly of the city, and yet he’s the most lovable, charming guy. And he’s this devious leader of this band of thieves.
Lori Tan Chinn also plays our Granny Boar.
Mike: She can take off her tusks, and she fights with them. Very intimidating.
Rebecca: And Ronny Chieng is our boat captain. Fish and Chip.
Mike: He’s a fish that lives inside the mouth of a pelican. I know that sounds very strange, but it’s probably why he’s so cranky. And maybe he drinks excessively. And then we’ve also got a group of very cute but very dangerous bunnies, who you saw in the trailer.
So we really did bring back every character that you’ve seen in every “Kung Fu Panda” film previously. But we’ve also got loads of new characters.
Now, conspicuously missing in the trailer is the Furious Five. Are you able to tell us why we didn’t glimpse them in the trailer?
Mike: Yes. Well, here’s the thing. You will glimpse them in our movie. Make no mistake. But they are each off on their individual missions. They’ve split off, and they each have an individual mission that they’re doing. So you’ll learn about that within the context of our film.
Years ago, Kung Fu Panda was envisioned as a six-part series. Is “Kung Fu Panda 4” kicking off a new trilogy?
Mike: It’s very possible. Like, I don’t think anyone will ever get tired of seeing Jack Black as this panda. I mean, he just is this panda. He comes up with all of the “skadooshes,” all the “sha-sha-booeys” and stuff. We could watch him forever. That said, we have made the most epic chapter of this franchise here.
Rebecca: How do you top the prior three? Our focus was how do you live up to those prior three and then add something new and go beyond.
Mike: Yeah, our focus was making just the greatest film possible to be seen in the theater. That was our own mission statement. So we’ll see.
You clearly are prioritizing the theatrical experience, which is phenomenal.
Mike: I am personally, yes.
Rebecca: Me as well. It’s epic. You must see it in the theater.
Good! Give us a tease of a moment that you’re most excited for people to see on the big screen.
Mike: I would just say the third-act action sequence is filled with such crazy special effects, such insane camerawork. Like, there’s been a lot of this GoPro-style camera that’s in live-action films that we haven’t been able to pull into the “Kung Fu Panda” franchise yet. And we’ve done it, and it’s so fun to watch.
And then beyond that, we’ve got a whole bunch of new artists working on this, and they brought an element of anime, which hasn’t necessarily been a strong part of the previous films. And in this one, it feels like more of a thumbprint.
Rebecca: The visuals and the action are so elevated. Hands down. It’s so exciting to watch it.
Well, guys, thank you so much. I’m excited to see more. I appreciate your time!
Mike: And Daniel, can I tell you something? As I said, we’ve worked really hard for the past four years to make this for the theater. Thank you for getting an audience excited and interested in our film. It means a lot to us for people to see this in the theater, and that’s because of you. So, thank you for helping us out.
Hey, absolutely. I appreciate it.