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Kung Fu Panda 4: Director Mike Mitchell’s Favorite Part

Change can be hard to accept. We humans like to keep things the same for as long as possible, and apparently it’s the same for Pandas and the rest of the animals in the world where the Kung Fu Panda movies take place, too.

Read on to see our interview with Director Mike Mitchell about what it was like to work on Kung Fu Panda 4.

kung fu panda movie poster

Kung Fu Panda 4 Synopsis

In Kung Fu Panda 4, Po (voiced by Jack Black) gets a promotion: He is to become the new Spiritual Leader of the Valley of Peace, but the problem is: he doesn’t want to give up his current job of being the Dragon Warrior. The gig comes with some nice perks and he’s become very accustomed to them.

Getting promoted means Po will also have to choose a successor to take his place as the Dragon Warrior, a task he does not feel qualified to do. And on top of all that, the wicked sorceress Chameleon (voiced by Viola Davis) Is plotting to rule an evil empire, with plans to unleash all the master villains from the spirit world.

In the midst of this challenge, a new character appears on the scene: we meet Zhen (voiced by Akwafina), who arrives in the Valley of Peace stirring up trouble. She’s wiley, spirited and smart, and she convinces Po that she can help him find the Chameleon and defeat her.

Po and Zhen set off on a journey to find and battle Chameleon, and along the way, they must face the prospect of change and how they could adapt to their new roles.

Interview with Director Mike Mitchell

The director of Kung Fu Panda 4 sat down for interviews about his work on the movie and we asked him about his favorite part of the franchise, and what it was like to work on this movie.


What’s your favorite part about the Kung Fu Panda franchise and of making this movie?


“My favorite part, and the reason I think it stands the test of time, is simply, Jack Black as the Kung Fu Panda. He simply IS a Kung Fu Panda. He’s Po: he’s childlike, he’s energetic, he’s positive, and he does excellent Kung Fu.”

“The next thing I love about this franchise, and it’s why I think it’s one of the best animated franchises of all times – are the villains. I love these villains! They’re so evil, and so well designed. They’ve all got deep backstories to them. And it was really fun to try to be better than the previous three villains with the Chameleon, and I feel that we did it.”

“And the third thing is because no other franchise combines humor, with specifically Kung Fu action. It’s such a great combination, and I don’t know if I’ll ever experience that again. It’s just the best!”


What was it like to work with Jack Black on this film?


“It was very open and free. When Jack comes in the door, it’s a party right away! It’s really easy to work with him because I just sit back and I enjoy the show! I just let Jack try whatever he wants to try. It was the same with Akwafina. The two of them going at each other – it really informs the storytelling.”

“The cool thing about working [with voice actors] in animation is, you’re not racing the sun going down [like on a live action movie set], so there’s plenty of time. Also, there’s no hair, there’s no makeup, there’s no lighting to worry about, so Jack could roll in in his pajamas if he wanted to.”

“It’s great because the way we do it, I’m in the room with him, and it’s very playful. We do the lines, we try them out, we play with them, and we just have a great time.”

“Jack always gives us a lot of choices because he’s really – and you may not think of him this way because he’s so funny – but he’s really a thoughtful actor, and he’s always making a lot of choices. And we just have a great time. It’s nuts!”


Do you know any Kung Fu?


“I don’t know ANY Kung fu at all! But I did learn a lot about it because for the first time ever in the franchise, we hired live action stunt performers for this one. They performed Kung Fu for us and taught us how to do authentic moves.”

“[In Kung Fu Panda 4] Po’s got this staff (that was bestowed to him by Oogway in the last film), so now he’s doing fights with the staff, and we had them show us authentic moves with the staff.”

“The [stunt] woman who played Akwafina’s character wore a big fox tail, so we could see how that tail moved as she did kung fu moves. The we handed that footage over to the animators (we videotaped it), and they took it and elevated it even more.”

“So it was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot about Kung Fu, but I still cannot perform Kung Fu.”

Luckily, he didn’t need to know kung fu to direct this movie!

Movie Review – Age Suitability

As in all the movies in the Kung Fu Panda franchise, there is a certain amount of cartoon violence as the kung fu moves are used in training and in fighting. Generally, the violence doesn’t have the gravity of violence in a live-action movie, and it seems like young kids won’t really experience it as scary.

But of course, you know your kids best and whether they’re the right age to see this film.

Thematic Elements

There are themes in Kung Fu Panda 4 that a lot of families may like to use as teachable moments or discussion-starters, like how hard it can be to change, what it’s like to be brave, how to see the best in other people, among others.

Po faces a change in his identity, as becoming the new Spiritual Master means he’ll have to use his wisdom to help people and rely less on his mad kung fu “ski-doosh” skills. He’s not sure he has the wisdom in him, and at first it really seems like he doesn’t, but luckily he realizes he knows more than he thought and his wisdom comes through.

Foxy decides to change and shifts her loyalty to Po, which means leaving her past behind her. Not an easy thing to do, but luckily for her, she’s got Po as a friend and mentor.

Bryan Cranston’s character is not known for being brave, but when he believes Po needs his help, he summons all his courage to set off on a journey with Po’s other father to help him. Bryan Cranston character has some terrific scenes where he pretends to be brave and ends up being brave for real.

Po sees the good in Foxy, even before she’s given him any real reason to trust her, because that’s his nature. And in the end, his trust in her turns out to have been the right move. In turn, Foxy realizes that Po is really one of the good guys, and that she trusts him.

About Kung Fu Panda 4

Rated PG, Kung Fu Panda 4 opens in Theaters on March 8, 2024 and stars Jack Black (Po), Akwafina (Zhen), and Viola Davis (Chamelon). Directed by Mike Mitchell, it features the voice talent of Dustin Hoffman (Shifu), James Hong (Mr. Ping), Bryan Cranston (Li), Ian McShane (Tai Lung), Ronny Cheing (Fish), and Ke Huy Quan (Han).

MomsLA was invited to screen the film and interview director Mike Mitchell in order to write this post.

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