‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ Makes Film History

February 7, 2016

It might be the third installment of a movie franchise, but Kung Fu Panda 3 is standing out as a first in the industry in a number of ways. To begin with, the whimsical tale marks the first film to be fully animated in both English and Chinese; and secondly, it’s the first film ever to be released simultaneously in the US and China in their respective languages. The film was co-produced between DreamWorks Animation, and 200 Chinese artists from Oriental DreamWorks based in Shanghai. Specifically, two-thirds of the film was produced in the US while the remainder was made in China. So, this represents the first time that any major American feature film has been co-produced with a Chinese firm as well.

Although it’s common for animated films to be dubbed in several languages, Kung Fu Panda 3 was fully animated in Mandarin so that the characters’ movements and speech are synced precisely to match the dialogue. The process proved to be a complex undertaking. Among many other instances, the lovable and impulsive panda protagonist, Po, is known to exclaim the nonsensical word, “Skidoosh;” this was switched to “Zou-ni,” meaning “Charge!” in the Chinese version.

Kung Fu Panda 3‘s co-director, Jennifer Yuh Nelson, explained to the LA Times, “Not only did they like the first movie in China, but they said it felt very Chinese. That was a huge shock to us. We didn’t even expect anyone to see it there.” Yuh Nelson immigrated from South Korea to California when she was a child, and her co-director, Alessandro Carloni was born in Italy. Since neither are Chinese themselves, on this installment they benefited from the Chinese artists’ courteous cultural corrections as they worked. For example, the filmmakers were prompted to fix a certain character’s costume which mixed elements of different dynasties. Also, they were politely apprised of the unacceptable practice of a character leaving chopsticks on top of a bowl. The Chinese and American artists found they could communicate effectively through the use of visual tools. Still, Yuh Nelson describes the amount of detail required in making the film as “army level,” and “way more intensive than live action.”

The $140-million production was made over four years, and is receiving strong reviews including 80% on Rotten Tomatoes. The North American box-office thus far has grossed $69 million since its opening weekend in late January; Chinese audiences eagerly received the film taking in a record-breaking $58 million over the opening weekend as the movie was strategically released around the time of the Chinese New Year.

The film is being celebrated for bridging a cultural gap between China and the US. Will there be another film in the franchise? According to Carloni, “This could be the end, and of course, should the fans love it and they want to see more Po…we’ll find out.”