Last Friday, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg appeared at the Director's Guild of America in Hollywood, California to present his company's 2011 slate of animated film projects, which includes the upcoming sequel Kung Fu Panda 2, and the Shrek spin-off Puss in Boots. On hand to join him were the director of Kung Fu Panda 2, Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda), and the film's star Jack Black (Gulliver's Travels), as well as Puss in Boots producer Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth), the film's director Chris Miller (Shrek the Third), and it's star Antonio Banderas (Desperado). The company released three movies in 2010 including How to Train Your Dragon, Shrek Forever After, and MegaMind. The three films combined earned over $1.5 billion at the box office. If the presentation we saw is any indication, the company might just be able to match that total again this year.
Jeffrey Katzenberg kicked off the morning by greeting the full house of industry insiders and began by discussing his two upcoming films. "Welcome, we are excited to share with all of you our first peak at our 2011 slate. We have two great movies coming up and they share a few things in common with one another," explained Katzenberg. "First and foremost they are great stories and I think they are full of a lot of heart and a lot of adventure. They are beautifully designed and have a very unique look to them. We think that these movies, at least to our eyes, are yet another quantum leap of what we were doing less than a year ago," he said. "They also share in common the fact that both movies have very beloved characters at their core and amazing, singular and iconic voice actors in the leads. We are excited that both Jack Black and Antonio Banderas are here today and you are going to have a chance to hear from them."
First up was a presentation of the first half of Kung Fu Panda 2, which is opening in theaters on May 26th. The film is a sequel to the 2008 smash-hit movie Kung Fu Panda, which earned over $600 million at the box office. Jeffrey Katzenberg introduced the film's director, Jennifer Yuh Nelson. "Now on to Kung Fu Panda 2 first, and it's my great pleasure to introduce to you today the director of Kung Fu Panda 2," he said. "There are many things that are remarkable about Jennifer Yuh Nelson, the first of which is that on the first movie she was a triple threat and she did three things for us," he explained. "She was the head of story, she led the artistic team that did the Anime 2D sequences and she was the director of the kung fu sequences in the movie. The amazing thing about Jennifer is that she is one of the quietest, refined and most elegant people that I know. She is pretty remarkable and she has been a creative force at DreamWorks for more than a decade. She has done a terrific job of leading this movie and she is going to lead us off again this morning," he finished.
With that, director Jennifer Yuh Nelson took to the stage to discuss the upcoming film. "Since the release of Kung Fu Panda one question has burned in people's minds, a question that defies all logical explanation ... why is Po's dad a goose? In the sequel, Kung Fu Panda 2 we will answer this question," she promised. "Only by finding out who he is can Po face the grave new threat to his existence, a weapon so powerful it threatens the existence of kung fu itself. So we have our entire original cast coming back to join us for the sequel. We have Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, and Jackie Chan. Plus we have some new faces joining the cast including Michelle Yeoh of kung fu movie fame who will portray the mysterious goat Soothsayer, and joining us as additional kung fu masters are Victor Garber, Dennis Haysbert, and of course Jean-Claude Van Damme," she said with excitement.
"Finally, Gary Oldman will play our new villain Lord Shen, a nefarious white peacock on a quest for vengeance and power," she concluded. "We are now going to show you the first half of the film but keep in mind that it is unfinished footage. The score is temporary and it's not in 3D but rest assured that when the movie comes out on May 26th it will be in 3D and everything will be very, very pretty." We were then treated to the first half of the film and we think that fans of the original will be pleased with this installment. We were given a chance to see all the characters in action including Gary Oldman's evil Peacock and the great Jean-Claude Van Damme. There was a very touching scene between Po and his adopted father, and of course lots of great kung fu action. Dustin Hoffman is excellent once again as Master Shifu but it is Jack Black's comedic timing that makes Po such a loveable character. The film ended in the middle of the second act with a cliffhanger ... literally, as all of our heroes were falling off of a cliff to their apparent doom.
After the screening was over, actor and comedian Jack Black ran down the isle and jumped on to the stage with his signature enthusiasm. "A delicious taste of things to come, hello ... I'm Jack Black and I portray Po," the actor said. "I just wanted to come up here and give you a rundown of the five most important things about the rest of the movie that you can't see yet. Obviously the master genius animators and artists at DreamWorks have not completed the final touches so we can't show everything but here are the five things that you need to know about Kung Fu Panda 2. Number one, the Furious Five land safely," the actor assured the audience. "As you saw the whole thing was collapsing and they were falling a thousand feet to certain demise but need not fear, the first thing you learn as a kung fu master is how to survive an enormous fall. Like for example, if I were about to fall from here I would go into a mini-tiger roll, tuck and swirl ... no problem ... survival," the actor exclaimed. "Two, Peacock vs. Panda is extremely funny in 3D. The Peacock while out of my weight class has so many evil tricks up his sleeve voiced by the incredible Gary Oldman, my favorite evil actor of all time. He has played some of my favorite villains and this one is no exception. I'm so excited that he could be on board for this one and our final battle in the end is one for the ages."
"Three, Po's kung fu moves are way more awesome then they were in the first movie," Jack Black continued. "You probably noticed that he did become more kick butt in his moves as you would expect now that he is the Dragon Warrior. He has refined his moves, his skills and he's had years to practice with the Furious Five. Together they work in the beautiful synchronization although he is still very much a clumsy child in many ways. That is the magical dynamic of Po I think. On the one hand he is the fiercest awesome warrior, and on the other hand he is a clumsy silly buffoon. In many ways I have tried to model my life after Po to just stay in character," Black explained. "I have learned a lot of kung fu in my downtime because I have learned from the greats like Sylvester Stallone and Jackie Chan that when you portray a kick ass kung fu master in the films, then other tough dudes out there in the world will want to prove their metal against you. I have been approached many times by bullies that want to fight me because they can then go home and tell their buddies that they kicked Kung Fu Panda's ass. So if you don't mind I would like to give a short demonstration."
The actor then demonstrated his own personal kung fu skills, which included kicks, punches, squats, jumps and rolls. It was classic Jack Black! "You don't want to mess with me. So to all of you out there who wanted to pick a fight with me, now you know better," shouted the actor. "Four, Po discovers ... sorry I'm a little out of breath from my demonstration," the actor joked. "Po discovers his roots but there is more to the story than even he knows. As you can see we are dealing a lot with his origins, and who his real parents were. It's one of the great things about the movie, the powerful emotional wallop that delivers in the end," the actor said on the verge of tears. "Now this is just me being emotional, I'm no longer winded from my kung fu demonstration. Fifth and finally, it is the most awesome movie of all time," he concluded. "Now I'd like to reintroduce the real master of inner-peace, my boss, the incredible ... Jeffrey Katzenberg. He stays cool as a cucumber, you know why? He's the Master of Zen, him and Phil Jackson."
With that Jeffrey Katzenberg took to the stage once again to introduce the filmmakers of Puss in Boots. "So one of the things that have been both remarkable and exciting for us at DreamWorks is that in the last two or three years there has been an incredible interest in CG animation by a lot of the great talents from the live-action movie business. They have joined us and have become very much a part of our creative team and our brain trust there," he explained. "You have begun to hear more and more about them and there are more that you will learn about both on these movies and others that we have. You know Roger Deakins had a great collaboration with us on How to Train Your Dragon and really helped to create a look and feel for that movie that really had never been achieved in an animated movie before. One of the great editors in the live-action movie business Billy Weber is working with us as well."
"Then one of the most incredible calls that I got, just about a year ago or so, was from an amazingly gifted and inspired filmmaker who inspires all of us in the live-action and in the animation community," Jeffrey Katzenberg continued. "It was just out of the blue and unexpected. He said that he appreciated some of the things that are going on in animation today and wanted to know more about it. He asked if he could come visit the studio and see what we are up to. So we invited him out to spend the day at the studio and have this show-and-tell where all our animators got to tell him what they are working on. He then asked me if I would come visit him in what he calls his 'man-cave.' Now I have had many invitations to many things in my career in the movie business but I have to say that I had never actually been invited to a 'man-cave' before. I didn't know if that was a good thing or a bad thing. The fact that the location of the 'man-cave' is about an hour and a half from our studio and he suggested that we meet at around 4:30PM on a Friday, just added to the surprise of the journey. "
"So I went to the 'man-cave,' which is really one of the most remarkable things that I have ever seen before and there I got to spend a couple of hours with Guillermo del Toro," Jeffrey Katzenberg explained. "Guillermo really in so many ways has become a force of nature within our studio. He is like Yoda. We built a little 'mini-man-cave' for him so he would be comfortable and everyone comes to the 'mini-man-cave' to play with Guillermo. He's become a great inspiration and collaborator. He was a creative consultant on Kung Fu Panda 2 and on the next film we are going to talk about he actually signed on to be executive producer of the movie. So here to talk a little bit about that is the remarkable Guillermo del Toro." The director of such acclaimed and fan-favorite films as Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy took to the stage and began by discussing his passion for animation and his collaborations with DreamWorks.
"Well it's been almost a year since I went to DreamWorks. My daughters have come with me several times and they always know when I'm going because I have a big smile and I skip breakfast, which is very rare," laughed Guillermo del Toro. "The first thing that I noticed going to DreamWorks was the collegiate atmosphere, the beauty of the campus and the fact that they give you three meals a day for free. I liked that. It awakened my ambition. But as I went in and I really talked to animators and people I admire. I thought about my decision carefully because as everyone knows you can't go to work with Jeffrey Katzenberg and then try to slack it off," joked del Toro. "You cannot cruise. I'm a workaholic but next to Jeffrey I am a slacker. In the time I take to get a shower and wake up he is closing deals in China, France and Europe, and he really is an inspiration for me."
"But the artists in the studio and the fact that I find DreamWorks remarkable, not just for what they have done but for what they are about to do," the director continued. "It is very hard for me to describe beyond what we are presenting here today but creatively, formally, technically, we are truly at a crucial crossroads at DreamWorks and we feel like we are growing into what we want to be. I think the next decade incarnation of DreamWorks is what has me really excited. Animation to me is a medium that for many years was treated like a genre and it was treated like a genre for kids. It's really a medium that allows creative expression unlike any medium we know," Guillermo del Toro explained. "You saw Kung Fu Panda 2, we are making very bold choices formally and we are making big, risky choices in the visuals and the way we present them. The tone of the movies will be changing too. For me being a complete control freak I wanted to be a part of this medium. I wanted to join and learn, and I am learning so much."
"If you see an animated film you have an experience like no other because the films are like paintings and are operatic visually," Guillermo del Toro went on to say. "They are hypnotic in many ways and I think Puss in Boots will prove that. Also you can be transfixed by the beauty of an ear or by the soft movement of whiskers or fur. I am transfixed by the medium of film like no other and I needed to learn about animation. I became very nimble working with PEbubgeiA7VWef+|Jeffrey Katzenberg. Mentally I mean, physically I'm a wreck," he joked. "I really wanted to make my craft better. For a forty-six year old fat Mexican this is a unique opportunity to actually find a new frontier to better myself, aside from the INS who also asked me to better myself," the director joked once again. "Now I find myself in my live-action films and my novels to have a new found energy and it's all thanks to DreamWorks. I have found a home, people who will feed me and I'm not going to let go of that."
Before we had a chance to see footage from Puss in Boots, Guillermo del Toro took the opportunity to introduce the films director to the audience. "One of the key people in my life right now is the director of Puss in Boots, Chris Miller. The reason why I wanted to become so involved with Puss is because when I came in I thought it was just going to be the spin-off of a Shrek character, but my expectations were admittedly demolished because Chris wanted to do a work of incredible beauty and singularity," he explained. "He came into Puss in Boots with the ambitions of narrating a great Sergio Leone Western combined with a heartbreaking beautiful story of friendship against an ever-changing landscape that went from a Western hard core tone, to a high-jinks adventure to an incredibly delicate landscape of lore. So I was absolutely transfixed by this and I want to introduce my friend and director Chris Miller."
Chris Miller began by thanking the talented director and informing the audience that del Toro actually has a hidden talent. "I just want to say at the start that it has been such a privilege and an honor to collaborate with Guillermo and have him as a partner and really a mentor. You know he is a great storyteller and an outstanding filmmaker but very few people know that his true gift is ... as a voice actor. I want to show you a very pivotal scene from Puss in Boots featuring Guillermo del Toro as the Comandante." We then screened a scene from the film, which in addition to featuring Puss, and del Toro as the Comandante, it also gave us our first look at Zach Galifianakis as Humpty Dumpty. Guillermo del Toro had one line that he said to Puss in a very deep voice, "Be careful of the company you keep." "When Shrek came out in the earlier parts of the 21st century I think fans of the movie really fell for the title character," explained Chris Miller. "But they also were attracted to the whole extended fairy tale family including Donkey, Fiona, Gingerbread Man and also in that line-up is Puss in Boots. I worked on all those movies and the character I was always attracted to was Puss. That is the cool character ... that little guy and his uniform. He is larger than life, full of vibrato and intriguing. He is part lover, and part fighter. He's just a great character all around."
"He has had many names over the years. He was called Diablo Gato at one point, the Fury Lover, also Little Big Cats, Mr. Bad Whiskers, Frisky Too Times, and even The Ginger Hit-Man," confessed Chris Miller. "We knew that we had this great breakout character that really deserved a breakout story. So this is the tale of Puss in Boots and it is an epic origin story told a long time ago. So this is before he knew Shrek, Fiona or Donkey and it chronicles his life from the time he is a little kitten to when he finally earns his status as the legendary Puss in Boots," the director explained. "We are definitely going for legend here and we are very pleased and proud that we have Antonio Banderas reprising his role. It's hard to tell the two of them apart at this point, isn't it? Also joining the cast is Humpty Dumpty, this is Puss' childhood friend and rival played by Zach Galifianakis. The film also stars Salma Hayek as Kitty Softpaws. She plays an expert thief with an extraordinary soft touch. Rounding off the cast are Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris as the treacherous outlaws Jack and Jill."
"So that is the main cast and I'm really happy that we have thirteen minutes from the beginning of the film to show you. So just a little bit of set up here, at the beginning of the film Puss is a wanted cat. He is a fugitive and he is traveling from town to town looking for a big payday." The scene takes place early in the film and features Puss walking into a bar and demanding respect from the locals who try to give him a hard time. He finds out about an amazing goose that lays golden eggs but in order to obtain it he must steal magic beans from the evil Jack and Jill. Just as Puss is about to achieve his goal he is foiled by the beautiful and mysterious Kitty Softpaws, who tries to steal the beans for herself. The scene was fun and looked great. Fans of the Shrek series and the Puss in Boots character should be pleased with this upcoming film.
Finally, after the screening actor Antonio Banderas jumped on to the stage and began by explaining that he wasn't quite himself this morning. "Well Antonio Banderas couldn't come this morning, it is too early for him. I am Jack Black and I am doing a perfect imitation of him," joked the actor. "So once upon a time, which was about eight years ago, Jeffrey Katzenberg gave me one of the best gifts of my life. It was this little cat named Puss that I got in New York when I did the first session with him and I mean look at him now ... he is a superstar in Hollywood, a movie star right here. I have had so much fun with this cat over the years," the actor explained. "In some ways his story is very similar to my story. He came to Hollywood just sneaking in to movies as a supporting actor and now just look at him. Now he overcame his passion and he is right there in the world of stardom. When I record the voice I play with him because I don't go to work. Today I have a session and I cannot wait to go over there because I feel that I am going to find a friend. A friend that I know very well, that is still also surprising and new for me that we can find a number of things that can be attractive to audiences all around the world."
"I see that it takes many people working to bring alive this magnificent character, a whole entire studio," Antonio Banderas continued. "All the different departments from the technical departments to the creative people make this character possible, so that we tell amazing stories to demanding audiences all around the world. I am very happy to have Guillermo del Toro just giving one more Spanish touch to the whole entire process of making this movie. I have admired him for a long time," the actor explained. "Chris Miller who has directed me before in Shrek, we know each other very well and we feel absolutely free to go over there and express everything that we have inside. For me it is interesting at the same time because they are using my voice and when I came to this country I couldn't speak the language," he confessed. "It has gotten a little better over the years and in my wildest dreams I never thought that they would call me to put my voice into an animation character. If nothing else I hope that you and audiences around the world enjoy this movie and this character as much as we do when we do it, thank you very much," Antonio Banderas said in closing.