A Blog of Very Little Brain

'What does Crustimoney Proseedcake mean?' said Pooh. 'For I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words Bother me.'

The origin of Kung Fu Panda

with 2 comments

Last week we watched Kung Fu Panda (capsule review: it’s mostly like Advil), which is a fun and funny DreamWorks Animation film about anthropomorphic animals in mythological China.

As expected, it manages to pull most of the ‘right’ levers. The Chinese references are mostly good, in a non-patronising way, although they do pull a Katzenberg (e.g. where all the characters are ‘in-character’ but the main character is Robin Williams) with the Panda, US accent and all. The actual animals are either Chinese, or from the Chinese culture, with some interesting choices (a mantis and viper as Kong-Fu fighters, a turtle as the ancient master). Also, no dumb pack animals are shown pulling crates or working, a usual miss in anthropomorphic works. The Red Panda Shifu (a Chinese word for martial arts master) is probably the best character in the whole film, artfully played by Dustin Hoffman.

The morals of the movie are also hit-and-miss, they do base on a lot of Zen/Chinese ideas, but it is the Big-Mac version. On one hand, the Panda remains an obese slob throughout the film (good), on the other, that is his “inner strength” (wot?). There’s a huge gap between saying “the power is within you” and showing you a mirror. The art is mostly good, although its Computer-Generated nature sometimes gets a bit overdone. I’m a fan of hand-drawn animation, so I’m biased, but I prefer my CGI “obvious” as in the Shrek, or Toy-Story way, rather than in a “drawn 2d” way. But I digress.

The whole reason for this review is that I kept wondering about where does the whole “Panda as a martial arts master” idea comes from? It’s obviously not original, DreamWorks are not known for inventing wheels. After all, we are talking about the studio that released “Antz” two weeks before “A Bug’s Life“, both starting production about the time Katzenberg left Disney (Pixar’s former publishers and current owners). But it’s more than just that. Pandas are not connected with martial arts the way other animals are. The film’s Furious Five (a tigress, a crane, a monkey, a mantis, and a viper), represent familiar Kung-Fu styles. The Panda, while is a Chinese animal, does not have any connection with Kung-Fu, or anything seemly resembling martial arts.

That is, if you stop looking at history and culture and start looking in pop-culture.

In April 1st, 1999, Blizzard, deep in the production of Warcraft III, “announced” that a new race was in the works for the game: Pandaren Empire.

The page included a fleshed history of the race to make it look an integral part of WarCraft’s world, complete with some units details, art and mockup screenshots.
Reaction was immediately favourable. The race, basically Panda Samurai, appealed to a lot of WarCraft fans and gamers in general (regardless of the Pandas being Chinese animal and the Samurai being Japanese), and managed to create a buzz around the concept, soon leading to some interesting results.

In the WarCraft III expansion pack, one of the playable characters was a Pandaren Brewmaster, sort of a Drunken Master warrior, but a panda. Here, once moving from the mock to the official, the character moved from the oriental mashup of panda samurai to a more Chinese oriented ideas.

Once this became “official” it just kept rolling. In World of Warcraft, there was an idea to capitalise on the Warcraft/Panda connection, with Pandaren Xpress, a delivery company for Chinese food. Later, a Panda cub was added as a pet.

With World of Warcraft being the no. 1 online RPG for several years now, its no wonder that Dreamworks Animation decided to roll their own version with a Kung-Fu Panda. With the last Warcraft-panda hulabaloo taking place circa 2005, it should coincide with the film’s production start, and nail this conspiracy on the head.

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Written by Erez

Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 18:13

2 Responses

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  1. actually some of your point of view,i’m agree with it..the red panda shifu thing and panda is not connected to martial arts figure..anyway there doesn’t have panda drawing at the shaolin temple,or in martial art book…isn’t?and if your look at chinese ancient astrology character some of the furious 5 character are there..logic but not all of them..i’m a martial artist too and try to figure it out why Kungfu Panda(Po) comes about?yes i agree with you but there have one thing i mislook and i say to you my friend,look closer…

    i believed,the idea comes originally from Jackie Chan(monkey) but Dreamworks are implementing it using 2d-3d gizmo stuff,whatever..the main point is,it’s not pop culture,indie or what..

    it’s based on true story.i can assured you that.

    people learning by copying..and its not accidentally if kungfu master copying the way of furious 5…i meant,maybe,maybe the last centuries ago there have bunch of people that come out with style such as tiger,mantis,monkey etc just to improve the way kungfu does..people tend to be differ,right?

    remind you my friend,not just the moves are diffrent between them,but what they believe..

    the animal in the movie just represent the kungfu master during that time..what suprised me how panda comes to figure of martial arts? and who said that the panda didn’t appear on martial arts league..?

    just look at the ying yang symbol..it represent panda!
    because panda are lazy in nature,,just know how to hang out and do nothing except eat,sleep and reproduce(you get what i meant..)

    Panda is special to chinese..it’s unofficial symbol to country of china beside dragon..

    actually the kungfu master,just name it that featured in KUNGFU PANDA,nobody knows their real name..that’s beauty of it..all people learning martial arts using their moves didn’t know them..but if you’re asked me who is the best character in KUNGFU PANDA,i’ll tell you,all of THEM including PO’S father…

    “there have no secret ingredient in my secret ingredient of soup”

    what a journey to understand that statement! but it’s worth it..?

    Only PO can understand it..that’s why MASTER OOGWAY(turtle) choosing him and give him the DRAGON SCROOL..when PO open it..what PO found it’s just his face..and because people don’t understand what Master Oogway are trying to tell,PO decided to draw a
    ying yang and said it the balance of life..

    that’s all my friend.i hope we can be friends.don’t hestitate to mail me and add me as afriend in your facebook account..

    skadoosh!
    -Pae Hensem-

    pae hensem

    Wednesday, July 29, 2009 at 16:21

  2. but we must go deeper…
    Ranma 1/2 used the idea of Kung Fu Panda before Warcraft, so there must be some legend or something…

    JKM

    Sunday, May 12, 2013 at 18:28


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