On Wednesday, ComingSoon.net had a chance to attend a very special DreamWorks Animation presentation for their two 2011 movies, the sequel Kung Fu Panda 2 and prequel Puss In Boots, both of which look like they’ll deliver a lot of laughs and adventure for fans of the characters, voiced by Jack Black and Antonio Banderas, respectively.
DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg was on hand to kick-off the presentation, reminding the audience of the company’s three 2010 releases grossing $1.6 billion in worldwide box office, and he was excited with how their two new movies would continue their “never-ending ability to be innovating with amazing technology.”
He introduced director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who had been Head of Story on the first Kung Fu Panda, as well as having coordinated the action scenes and did the animation for the dream sequences. He warned she was very quiet and he wasn’t kidding as Nelson seemed to almost be talking in a whisper as she introduced her film by saying it would finally answer the burning question most people had after seeing the first movie: “Why is Po’s father a goose?” In that sense, the sequel will be very much about Po trying to find out his true identity and where he comes from.
She then announced that they would be showing the entire first half of the film in an unfinished work-in-progress form. Now, mind you, we were at ShoWest back when Katzenberg unleashed the entire first movie in unfinished form, and it was fairly difficult to watch as it went from storyboards, to line animation and there wasn’t very much finished animation. This time around we already knew the characters and we were able to get a much better sense of the story, and a lot of the action sequences were already finished. We’ll try not to spoil too many of the jokes and what happens, but we’ll give you some idea of the story and some of the scenes. One of the more obvious things about this sequel is that the Furious Five play a lot bigger role in the story, essentially being in every scene and each of them having more lines with Angelina Jolie’s Tigress being given a bit more personality and Seth Rogen’s Mantis having a lot more lines and getting a lot more involved in the action. And there is a LOT of action.
The new villain this time around is Lord Shen, a peacock voiced by Gary Oldman, and the film opens similarly to the first movie with an ancient tale animated in a stylized 2D manner that talks about fireworks and the part they play in Shen’s origin and how a prophecy from a goat soothsayer (voiced by Michelle Yeoh) starts him down the dark path at the center of the story in which he creates a weapon powerful enough to put an end to kung fu.
Some time has passed since the first movie and Po’s fighting prowess as the Dragon Warrior has become quite legendary, something we see by the two kids playing with his action figure outside the temple. Inside, we hear loud grunts as if someone is fighting and members of the Furious Five are watching something happening and counting as if someone is being hit but no, it’s our Po, trying to stuff as many buns as he can into his mouth. He then heads out of his training session with Master Shifu (again voiced by Dustin Hoffman) who tells him that his next lesson will be to find inner peace, something he displays by controlling the smallest water drop in a very precise way. Before Po can learn how to do what might seem impossible, he and the Furious Five are sent on a mission to the musician’s village, which is being raided by wolf bandits stealing all the pots and pans and metallic musical instruments from the villagers. Po shows up with his team and they start making short work of the wolves using their kung fu skills. The stolen items are being packed up in nets (including a pig that got caught with them) and ropes are sent down from a cliff on the other side of the gorge to pull them away but the net containing the pig comes loose as Mantis attacks the wolves and the Furious Five form an elaborate human chain to keep it from falling into the gorge. The wolf leader then comes at them with a giant hammer and as Po gets ready to dodge, he spots a tattoo on his assailant’s arm which hypnotizes him and sends him into a flashback in which he sees a panda, presumably his mother, walking away from him.
After the wolves run off, we cut to the noodle shop of Po’s “father” Mr. Ping (once again voiced by the inimitable James Hong) where customers keep asking about the “Dragon Warrior” that used to work there. Ping is delighted when Po pays him a visit and they are soon having a heart-to-heart about the fact that Po’s father happens to be a goose, and Ping tells him how he found him outside his shop in a crate of radishes and decided to raise him as his own son.
We’re then introduced to Shen properly as he enters a courtyard where he confronts three large kung fu masters–a rhino, an ox and a crocodile–and a fight ensues where we see Shen using his metallic talons, razor-sharp feathers and a bladed pike to fight them off and then he has them open the crate to reveal a large cannon shaped like a dragon which he blasts at his attackers.
Shifu tells the Furious Five that the rhino was murdered and sends them on a mission to destroy Shen’s new weapon, and after Po says goodbye to his adoptive father, a really touching scene, we get a montage of the Furious Five traveling across mountains and other landscapes to reach Shen’s land, cut together with footage of Shen showing off more fight moves. In one of the stranger scenes, Po is sleeping and he dreams of his parents giving him up for adoption, instead adopting a radish who was even better at kung-fu (and sure enough, the radish they’re holding shows its own kung fu moves.) Po also has a moment on the deck of a boat where he tries to replicate the water drop move he saw Shifu do earlier to attain his inner peace, and when that doesn’t work, he spars a bit with Tigress, so we learn a bit more about her. We also see a scene in Shen’s empire where all of the metal is being melted down and we see Shen in the same throne room we saw at the film’s opening confronting the Soothsayer, who he now has chained up. One of the wolves comes in and tells him about the fighting panda, which apparently is part of the Soothsayer’s premonition about Shen’s future.
When the group finally arrive at Shen’s land, they peer over the wall and see all the wolves lurking about and realize they’ll have to get in via stealth, so we see Po awkwardly trying to sneak across the market square. When the Furious Five check up on his progress he’s inside a festive Chinese dragon, which leads to a couple of funny sight gags as he pulls in one of the Wolf Guards and spits him out the dragon’s back end. He’s soon joined by the rest of the group and they travel through the city inside the dragon pulling in wolves and spitting them out. When the wolves stop the dragon, the Furious Five are gone having snuck into a bunch of nearby barrels. They eventually get to the jail to find Master Oxen (voiced by Dennis Haysbert) and Master Croc (voiced by Jean Claude Van Damme) imprisoned, though they’re not exactly thrilled about being saved, and do their best to stay inside. Some of the wolf guards show up and a fight ensues, but one of the wolves escapes and the Furious Five pursue them with Po riding in a cart and things being thrown at him including a basketful of baby bunnies who seem more thrilled by the treacherous chase than Po does. The chase leads them to a square outside Shen’s castle where the Furious Five are surrounded by an army of wolves. They’re shackled and then led into the tower by Shen’s gorilla guards where they see that their destination is at the top of a seemingly endless stairs. When they finally get to the top, Po faces Shen for the first time and Po learns that Shen was there when Po’s parents were killed. When Shen reveals his cannon to use on the Furious Five, Po destroys it, but Shen flies away and lands at a rampart miles away where we see that he now has dozens of these dragon cannons and he starts bombing the tower as the Furious Five try to escape, running up the falling tower as it collapses. As they reach the top, they fall off the edge and as they start falling, a loud voice booms over the speakers “Stop the projector! Stop the projector!” and out came Jack Black to do a funny bit about “The Five Things You Need To Know” about the rest of the movie.
After doing his bit, he brought Katzenberg back to the podium for the Puss In Boots presentation, which began with Katzenberg introducing a mystery guest by telling about his first meeting with the man by driving an hour and a half outside Los Angeles to visit his “Man-cave.” That should have been enough for anyone in the know to figure out the guest was the film’s Executive Producer Guillermo del Toro!
After a glowing speech about his love for animation and how he’s found kindred spirits at DreamWorks since joining forces with them a year ago, Del Toro introduced director Chris Miller (Shrek the Third), who showed a brief storyboarded clip in which Del Toro voices a new character called The Commandante. Miller then introduced 13 minutes of footage from the movie, most of it looking quite good and nearly complete, surprising considering that the movie is nearly eight months away.
The footage seems to take place in Mexico where we’re in the midst of something called “The Festival of the Fire,” and it starts inside a bar full of tough-looking guys. A long shadow appears at the saloon doors and the camera follows it to the end to show that it’s Puss In Boots. All the men start laughing and making jokes like “Look what the cat dragged in,” and one patron makes the mistake of pulling the stool from under Puss. Next thing they know, Puss is on the other side of the room and they suddenly realize he’s the same cat whose doe-eyed image is in the “Wanted” posters. One of the men tries to sneak up behind Puss to collect the reward, but the cat is too fast and before they can blink, he’s raced through the bar doing damage with his sword and claws. Turns out that he’s just there trying to find a new job and they tell him all about Jack and Jill and the legendary magic beans they’ve found, which can take the bearer to the goose that lays the golden eggs. (One of the men has tattoos of all the elements as the story is told, leading to a rather odd sight gag.)
We then see a hand holding these same magic beans and the entire hand is locked tightly in a box. This is Jack, voiced by Billy Bob Thornton, and he and Jill (voiced by Amy Sedaris) are arriving at a hotel in town, but these aren’t the young naïve kids from the fairytale, but big and tough no-bullsh*t thugs, almost like Southern rednecks, with Jill packing a pistol that we see her use. Once Jack and Jill are in their room, they start talking about the beans and Jack tells Jill that when they finish this job, he wants to settle down and have a baby.
Meanwhile, Puss is outside on the window ledge and he uses his sharp claws to cut an opening in the glass in his own shape but before he enters, he sees a black cat wearing a Mexican luchador mask at the adjoining window. The other cat hisses at him, and starts miming that he’s going to “break him in two.” The two go back and forth and ultimately start fighting and crash into the middle of the room at which time Jill pulls out a gun and shoots at them, and Puss crashes back out through the window to escape. He chases the mysterious black cat across the roofs and alleys of the city and follows it into a small door, which sends Puss falling down a long dark hole. He lands (on his feet, of course) in what looks like a similar bar as the one we saw earlier, except this one is filled with house cats lounging around. He sees the black cat on the other side of the room and says that the magic beans were his score and challenges the cat to a fight. Various cats in the room start playing musical instruments and the black cat starts doing a flamenco dance around the confused Puss, then someone points to a sign saying that it’s “Dance Fight” night at the cat club. Puss and the other cat start dancing, doing funny cat-like moves like “The Litterbox” and then the black cat jumps on the bar, sending a bowl of milk flying across the room. A drop of milk lands on Puss’ boots, so the angry cats pulls out his sword and the two start fighting for real before the other cat reveals itself to be a girl… Miss Kitty Softpaws, the sexy cat burglar voiced by Salma Hayek.
This footage was very funny, but it also had a really different look and feel from the “Shrek” movies, maybe because it wasn’t full of all the Hollywood references that played such a large part in those movies. It looks more like a funny and quirky swashbuckling movie not unlike the recent Rango, but to give you some idea who is going to really love this movie, all you had to hear was the female journalist next to me coo audibly when the image of Puss In Boots was shown onscreen, because this might be the movie that gets all those women who live with a hundred cats out of their houses!
As the footage came to an end, Antonio Banderas came out and hit the stage with a few Puss In Boots like poses, and he talked about his journey from first getting the role of the swashbuckling cat eight years ago, his first voice session coughing up hairballs, which nearly sidelined him from singing the next day on Broadway in “Nine” and how thrilled he is to be in another movie with Salma Hayek.
DreamWorks Animation once again impressed us with what they’re doing, especially with Puss In Boots, which really has been a bit of an unknown up until now despite our long-time familiarity with the character.