It’s been a long few weeks for Jeffrey Katzenberg – last week’s trip to Australia marked the end of a worldwide tour to promote DreamWorks Animation’s latest blockbuster: Kung Fu Panda 2.
Another screening beckons at the Sydney Film Festival for the Australian premiere and the boss of the animation house is here to talk about the film (and nothing else). Just how many times have you seen it?
“A ‘gajjillion’ – maybe two ‘gajillion’,” he says.
It’s not that he’s not proud of it – the film boasts an all-star cast led by Jack Black as Po the panda and has been well-received by critics and audiences alike.
“I don’t think of ourselves as risk averse,” he says. “I think we have a high degree of confidence about what we’re doing and frankly, that gives us the confidence to do things which are unique and original. Our ambition is to exceed our audience expectations every time – whether it’s the visual experience or the story experience – whatever we’re setting out to do."
Unlike the first film, Kung Fu Panda 2 is in 3D – Po (Jack Black) is now living his dream as the Dragon Warrior, protecting the Valley of Peace alongside the Furious Five: Viper (Lucy Liu), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Crane (David Cross), Tigress (Angelina Jolie) and Tiger (Jackie Chan) until a new villain forces him to confront his past.
The animation is more intricate and larger in scale than the previous film, which was released just three years ago.
“We try with each successive movie to raise the bar and offer moviegoers something that is going to impress them and excite them,” he says.
“For me, one of the things which completely blew me away when I saw it was that scene when Po and Tigress are in the water and they come out of the water and their hair is all matted … the realness of it. It made you really have a sense that you were there and this was actually happening to these characters – we couldn’t have done that a year ago.”
The all-star voice cast is a particular signature for DreamWorks since its first mega-hit – Shrek – a decade ago. Katzenberg says the cast is driven by directors, who always wants to work with the best actors.
“Angelina Jolie is not cast in this movie because of her celebrity, she’s cast because she’s actually a great actress. And Seth Rogen because he’s really funny. And Jack Black because there’s nobody else in the world, I think, who can bring Po to life like he does. Lucy Liu – she’s a terrific actress.
“So somebody in some local theatre company here may also have talent but if they’re really talented they’ll become stars – Lucy has worked her whole career she’s a star.”
Kung Fu Panda 2 is released in local cinemas on June 23.
At the Sydney Film Festival premiere of Kung Fu Panda 2 (from left to right): Jack Black, Lucy Liu, director Jennifer Yuh and Jeffrey Katzenberg.