Kung Fu Panda 4: Burning Questions Answered by Jack Black, Awkwafina and Mike Mitchell

Kung Fu Panda 4: Burning Questions Answered by Jack Black, Awkwafina and Mike Mitchell

In 2008, a noodle-loving animated panda named Po kicked his way onto the screen in Kung Fu Panda. Jack Black’s Dragon Warrior spawned theme park rides, countless cuddly toys, a TV series spin-off and three blockbuster movies, the latest of which, Kung Fu Panda 4, releases in Australia this week (March 28, 2024).

Lifehacker Australia spoke to cast members Jack Black, Awkwafina and director Mike Mitchell about the new Kung Fu Panda movie, and we have uncovered everything you need to know about the latest kick-ass instalment.

Kung Fu Panda 4: What is it about?

kung fu panda 4 australia
Kung Fu Panda 4 release date Australia. Image: Universal Pictures

Po has battled multiple mighty warriors, reconnected with long-lost family and inherited Master Oogway’s Staff of Wisdom. What really is there left for him to do?

It turns out this is a question the filmmakers asked as well.

“We wanted to make sure we were telling the right story. We didn’t just want to make another Kung Fu Panda,” Mike Mitchell said during a roundtable interview. “So when we landed on this story, a really important part of it was the theme and the message that we’re putting in there. We thought, you know, Po’s done everything he possibly could, he’s achieved it all, he’s the Dragon Warrior. What if that was taken away from him? So with that is like [the theme of] change, and we thought it was something that was relatable no matter what country you live in, or what age you are.”

It’s a theme that also happens to be reflected in Jack Black’s life, as he returned to voice the character a fourth time over a fifteen-year period.

“There is a powerful theme in the movie about succession and being open to change and growth,” Black said “I’ve felt the winds of change in my own life, raising a family and having the thoughts and dreams and fears of a parent has changed me in significant ways.

“But hopefully, I still have that love and and childlike enthusiasm for the work because I feel like that’s when I have I’m at my best when I’ve got that kind of what the spirit of fun in the adventure.”

According to his collaborators, Black certainly hasn’t lost any of that fun or adventure (see the video below for some of that fun in action).

“Working with Jack teaches me so much because he’s just really easy to work with. Kind, funny, generous,” Awkwafina said.

“Jack is the Kung Fu Panda. He’s just that. He’s like a kid at heart,” Mitchell said.

Is Kung Fu Panda based on real kung fu?

One element of Kung Fu Panda’s success is its submersion in both the kung fu fighting style and genre of movies. Mitchell revealed that for Kung Fu Panda 4, they brought on trained kung fu fighters to help land the moves in the animation world.

“Specifically with the kung fu moves, we hired some live-action stunt people that perform moves for us,” he explained. “Po had been bestowed the Staff of Wisdom from Oogway in the previous film, so we really wanted to make sure that we got the movement right for that. So they did a whole bunch of fight techniques and a whole bunch of choreography [for us].”

When does Kung Fu Panda 4 take place?

kung fu panda 4 australia
Kung Fu Panda 4 release date Australia. Image: Universal Pictures

While fifteen years have passed in the real world, time also seems to have passed in the Kung Fu Panda world (even Jack Black acknowledged Po is looking a bit greyer), but as for how much time, Mitchell couldn’t confirm.

“It almost seems like real-time because Po has settled in, he’s still protecting the Valley of Peace, it’s become his job. So who knows how many adventures he’s had? And then it’s funny because I think a lot of people would debate the TV shows as well. Like, do you count that into the timeline of everything else? I don’t know if I do, but some super fans do,” Mitchell explained.

Kung Fu Panda 4: Cast and characters

Kung Fu Panda 4 welcomes back many familiar faces, including, of course, Jack Black as Po. Returning also is Dustin Hoffman as Master Shifu, James Hong as Po’s adopted dad Mr Ping, and Bryan Cranston as Po’s biological dad, Li Shan.

Awkwafina as Zhen

Kung Fu Panda 4 release date Australia. Image: Universal Pictures

One of the biggest new faces in Kung Fu Panda 4 is Zhen the fox, voiced by Awkwafina.

“It’s such an honour to be added to a franchise that I’ve already been such a fan of,” she said during the roundtable.

This addition came with an easy chemistry between Awkwafina and Black, who had worked together on Jumanji: The Next Level, with Awkwafina recounting how Jack welcomed her to that set with a rendition of Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Welcome to the Jungle’.

“I’m not sure you could call that advice, but I did serenade you to welcome you to my world,” Black added.

Zhen is street-wise thief who begins at odds with Po, but ends up agreeing to help guide him to Juniper City so he can face an ominous new villain.

“The beauty of that friendship arc [is] our friendship starts off with mistrust and ends up with trust, and I think in some ways, you and I have that same dynamic,” Black said. “…we have like these very different kinds of senses of humour, where I’m like, kind of over the top childish, physical humour, [and] you have like a dry like sardonic wit. Together, when we come together, those two sauces create something new and very fun.”

The duo added that improvisation wasn’t always possible during the animation process, but that Mitchell was open to new ideas during the process.

“For the most part, [recording is] in isolation. [But] we did get to jam together, and that’s very rare,” Black explained. “But with Mike and Stephanie, our directors, I’d always do it like it’s written in the script first, but then once we got past that, it’s like, ‘Oh, maybe let me try one more take or to do it this way or that.’ [We] went back and forth. The fun of it is to explore the nooks and crannies of each scene.”

“I had such a fun time with Mike Mitchell… He can make you feel so comfortable doing whatever. He encourages it and he’s just fun.” Akwafina agreed.


Image: Universal Pictures

Kung Fu Panda 4’s trailers have made it clear that the new film will bring Po face to face with one of his most challenging villains yet, in large part because she has a connection to all of his past nemeses. Viola Davis brings a powerful performance to Kung Fu Panda 4 as the chameleon, a villain who is seeking the power of all the greatest warriors, including Tai Lung (Ian McShane), Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) and General Kai (J.K. Simmons).

“You could tell [Viola Davis] really enjoyed embracing the evil,” Black said. “…It takes a big actor and a big performance to fill that character because the character has the power of all of the villains from all the previous films. [Viola] more than had that power. You know, she brought it to the screen and so much more.”

Why the Furious Five aren’t in Kung Fu Panda 4

kung fu panda 4 australia
Image: Universal Pictures

While Kung Fu Panda 4 brings back many of the franchise’s iconic villains, some of its equally iconic heroes skip the adventure this time around. Po’s warrior friends, the Furious Five, are absent from the main story of the movie, which Mitchell explained was mainly due to the story’s direction.

“We wanted to bring back every character from the previous three movies. But at the same time, we also wanted to add a whole bunch of new characters,” the director explained. “Po was leaving the Valley of Peace and going to Juniper City, this sprawling crowded [city] – it’s almost like New York set in an ancient fantasy China. So there’s a lot of story to tell for all those characters. We just found if we just want to include all these brand new characters and keep Shifu and keep Mr Ping and have Bryan Cranston, who plays his dad Li, it’s just a lot of story to tell.”

There is hope for the Five, however, with Mitchell saying they “will be around” in future:

“By the end of this film, I think you can see that if there’s going to be further adventures of the Kung Fu Panda, the Furious Five will be around,” he teased.

Hit Me Baby One More Time: Music in Kung Fu Panda

kung fu panda 4 australia
Image: Universal Pictures

With Kung Fu Panda 4 already out in other territories, it didn’t take long for the film’s music sting, a Tenacious D cover of Britney Spears’ ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’, to go viral.

Here, they explained how the iconic mash-up came together. Black said it started with Mitchell being a big fan of his band Tenacious D and asking if they would do a cover for the film’s end credits.

“I have to give credit to my manager, Sharon Jackson. She said you should do Britney Spears,” he continued. “So I said to Mike Mitchell, can we do Britney Spears? And he said, yes to ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ because it’s kind of in the Kung Fu [area]…I was very happy with the way it turned out.

Black added that he did not collaborate with Britney on it directly, but did get some encouragement.

“I did send an email to Britney saying that I’m a huge fan and that we love her song and we’re proud of it and I hope she likes it. I invited her to the premiere and I didn’t hear back from her,” Black said. “But I heard from her manager. He said she read it and she said thank you.”

Mitchell added that the cover is elevated thanks to the magic of Hans Zimmer’s scoring.

“On top of that, we also had Hans Zimmer,” Mitchell said. “We sent the song to London, and he had an 80-piece orchestra there. And it was beautiful. If you ever watch the film again, listen, there are violins that weave in the Kung Fu Panda theme into the song. When the editor and I first heard that it was like, chills.”

Jack Black’s Path to inner peace

kung fu panda 4 australia
Image: Universal Pictures

If you’ve followed Kung Fu Panda at all over its four movies, you’ll know that inner peace is something many of the characters are working to find. Indeed, it’s something many of us try to find in our day-to-day life – and it’s something Jack Black has a little advice on.

“I’ve been thinking about this lately,” Black told the roundtable. “What I need is at least one day a week where everyone just leaves me alone, completely. I have no responsibilities, and I can actually just do nothing all day. But if I don’t have that one day that I can just chillax, I start to go a little crazy. I think that’s my definition of inner peace is being able to reset once a week where you can just Zen out.

The actor added that he also enjoyed playing his Xbox, with his game of choice being Minecraft.

It isn’t just Black who is spouting wisdom, however. Kung Fu Panda 4 itself has an inherently strong and good-natured theme at its heart.

“What we tried to get across here, and what Po realises himself, is that change doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can be a wonderful thing. We should embrace it. It’s not losing anything that we were in the past, but it’s building upon who we were and possibly becoming something even better,” the director said.

Kung Fu Panda 4’s release date Australia:

Now let’s get to the most important information, how can you see the animated masterpiece these folks have put so much time and effort into?

The film will be released in Australia exclusively in cinemas on Thursday, March 28, just in time for the Easter break.

Lead Image Credit: Universal Pictures

The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans

Here are the cheapest plans available for Australia’s most popular NBN speed tier.

At Lifehacker, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.


Leave a Reply