KUNG FU PANDA 3 – IN THEATERS FRIDAY JANUARY 29
In 2016, one of the most successful animated franchises in the world returns with its biggest comedy adventure yet, KUNG FU PANDA 3. When Po’s long-lost panda father suddenly reappears, the reunited duo travels to a secret panda paradise to meet scores of hilarious new panda characters. But when the supernatural villain Kai begins to sweep across China defeating all the kung fu masters, Po must do the impossible — learn to train a village full of his fun-loving, clumsy brethren to become the ultimate band of Kung Fu Pandas!
Jack Black! The name itself brings a smile to my face….a random laugh out loud moment when I think of some of the hilarious characters he’s played in his very impressive years as a funny guy in Hollywood. A panel of us media influencers we’re seated in a swanky west LA hotel at a huge round table while we waited for Jack to enter the room. He entered and it was as if someone said action! His energy was incredible and his sense of humor is real! The laughter among us was immediate and genuine. It was the grandest experience as we discussed how Jack really is Po, themes of fatherhood and teachers shared in Kung Fu Panda 3, families growing up with the Kung Fu Panda franchise, advice for young kids wanting to get into acting and achieving inner peace.
Jack really is Po:
Jack Black: (sits down at the round table) This like The View on steroids!
(Mom) Media influencer: Good morning.
JB: Good morning.
MI: What’s it like voicing such a well-loved character like Po, as far as developing him and evolving him all through just your voice?
JB: Well, you know with this particular character, I was really just being myself, you know, kind of a younger version of myself.
JB: Like me minus any of, like, the jaded 45 year old Hollywood dude. So, it’s like a teenage me, just in love with Kung Fu. And I wasn’t really doing a character voice. That was part of the appeal is that—
MI: You got to be you.
JB: Yes, I mean all those years ago when we we’re first talking about Kung Fu Panda, Jefferery Katzenberg approached me and was like, “Uh, you’re writing School of Rock and High Fidelity. We love you over here at DreamWorks. We want you to do Kung Fu Panda with you. And I was, like, hesistant because, you know, I had this rock band. I kind of had a cool rock and roll edge to me. And I was like, “I don’t know if I want to go into, like, the kids’ world. I think I might want to go a little harder, a little darker with my career.”
Jack went on to tell us that he was at the crossroads. He didn’t know if Po was the right move for him. He and the animators did a test run of Po animated and added Jack’s voice from High Fidelity. He instantly saw Po in a new light. Realizing that they really wanted Jack’s authentic self and that he didn’t have to “baby it up” for him to play Po.
Families growing up Team Kung Fu Panda:
MI: How has it been having your kids actually grow up with this character as well?
JB: It’s cool that my boys get to see and hear Daddy in something they like. But, I know they have mixed feeling because I think it’s inherent in fatherhood for the kids to not think their dad is cool. They love it, but then they also go, “Yes, but, you know, you’re not as cool as” I don’t know. I don’t want to mention other cartoons that they love. But they are very excited to come to the premier. So I’m happy to have something they they’re proud of in my resume.
We affectionately joked about Po’s age…and came to the conclusion that he’s just a teenager..and wondered about the idea of a grown up Po. Maybe, maybe not…we’ll have to wait and see.
Themes of fatherhood and teachers shared in Kung Fu Panda 3:
MI: I love the partnership with the fatherhood involvement, like getting fathers more involved in their kids’ lives. Are you very involved in your kids lives?
JB: Very much so. That is one of the great themes of the movie, and also the theme of teachers. There’s a lot of great things there.
And that’s kind of my favorite part of the movie is the emotional resonance, especially at the end with the father and the family and all the different people in the community coming together to help this kid conquer the universe, conquer the forces of evil in his life. I’m very involved with my boys. I help them with their homework.
Jack continues to tell us how he experiences the challenges of fatherhood with his seven and nine year old sons. That’s one of the magical powers of kids…they know how to ground us adults. He told us he tries to come up with different strategies to get the boys to do chores amongst other things. One mom chimes in and tells him he’s dealing with a tween and that it comes earlier than it’s suppose to. He seemed at ease hearing other parents comment on how he’s not alone with the challenges of parenthood and how we are all learning as we go.
Advice for kids wanting to get into acting:
MI: There are so many kids that admire and look up to you. What advice do you have for them, you know, kids that might be thinking about wanting to become an actor.
JB: I always try to steer them towards writing and directing. Acting is really fun and I’ve always loved doing it, but I got advice early on from a teacher named Deb Devine who said, don’t just sit around waiting to be a puppet in someone else’s show. You know, you got to go out and tell stories and make your own stuff or else it’ll probably never happen.
He also added that the competition is real and that you have to work on all aspects of storytelling. While admitting that he’s not a big screen writer he does give himself credit for his early writing. This all helps you find your voice as an actor too. Write sketches and songs and plays, and even a screenplay if you can.
MI: What is the appeal for you to do actually because you do a wide variety of work, but you keep coming back to doing more stuff for children. What’s the appeal for you to reach that audience?
JB: It just sort of comes natural. I have some clownish, immature, childish part of my personality that naturally resonates with that audience.
Achieving inner peace:
MI: So, what do you do to achieve inner peace: Because Po is looking for his Chi.
JB: What do I do to achieve inner peace? You know, I do a little meditation, not like official meditation. What do you call that thing when you have a word? A mantra.
JB: I don’t have a master who’s taught me on the top of the mountain how to meditate, but just quiet times alone when I can just get back to what’s important and empty the mind of everything if possible. Breathing, “Whew,” just stillness and peace.
JB: You can find some peace.
MI: Are you able to practice this with your sons?
Black told us that it would be great, but at this juncture, he didn’t foresee any morning meditations with the sons. Saying that he has a fantasy that someday he and his family will meditate together and that it part of the parenting challenge of his boys doing what he says. He jokingly mentions that he’d have to “put the foot down and say there will be consequences unless we all mediate and get inner peace.” Of course this was one of Jack’s many jokes told during our round table interview time with him. He softly noted that that’s not the way to inner peace. He also shared that in his house up o the wall of all of us, there is a photo of the family pretending to meditate and admits it was a challenge to get them to pose for the photo so he had to use a lollipop to bribe his son to pose for the picture.
A few more points about Kung Fu Panda 3:
MI: Po has a lot of big moments in this film. How do you see the character evolving in the past few films and maybe where you see him going? And what messages or things particularly for kids that they can take away from the film?
JB: Well a big theme that runs through all three of the films is the adoption situation that he’s in. you know, he’s an adopted kid. And that really comes to the fore in this one because his biological father comes into the picture, and it’s like, “Uh, well”—so, it’s kind if heavy because I have a niece who’s adopted and she was with me when we first watched the film. And I was checking her out, and she was into it. But, I could tell she was like, “Whoa.” I just wondered what was happening in her mind, you know. But I think it’s good because it’s all about family and about the community and how important that is.
Jack tells us that he thinks it’s interesting that Po’s relationship with his biological father, where he loves and adores him and looks up to him and expects him to teach him everything about the universe. And he’s tells Po that he is going to teach him everything, and reassures that he knows everything. Then incomes the moment when he realizes that he doesn’t know everything, that he, Po, feels so betrayed and angry at him. Jack feels that that very experience is a universal thing that kids have with their parents. He jokingly adds that he feels this comes on at the age of nine (like his oldest son.) Mr. Black notes that there are some growing pains, but then he like how Po has a different realization by the end of the movie.
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