<em>Kung Fu Panda</em> Writer Can’t Stand Katzenberg <em>Kung Fu Panda</em> Writer Can’t Stand Katzenberg
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Kung Fu Panda Writer Can’t Stand Katzenberg

Dan Harmon, one of the writers of Kung Pu Panda, has written an entertaingly long rant about how much he disliked working on the film and particularly how much he disliked working with Jeffrey Katzenberg. Actually I’m not sure what’s more amusing: that Harmon hated working with Katzenberg so much or that he’s so damn clueless about the animation process. To begin the piece, Harmon expresses incredulity that some animated films are written with storyboards and not scripts: “First they storyboard the entire film. That is the first step. Not kidding. No writers, no script, just a story, and an entire film drawn on pieces of paper.”

Here’s another choice excerpt:

“I came in about four writers into the process. It’s kind of hard to write a “better” scene than the last writer when the rules are that you can only change 30 percent of each scene or completely change 30 percent of the scenes, per Katzenberg screening. So, for instance, in this scene, the panda comes up a flight of stairs carrying a bucket of water, slips on a banana peel, says something to two geese and does an air guitar. The good news? There can be anything in the bucket. Your mission: make the movie better.

“It’s harder than it sounds. Especially when the larger “bucket” that the movie is contained in cannot change: the fact that the story has to be about a panda who is informed he is the chosen one, destined to …beat up… a guy who has escaped from prison and who is spending the entire movie walking to town, in order to…try to beat him up, because that’s the prophecy. And I won’t spoil the movie, but the bad guy doesn’t win. Because he’s not destined to. But just to make sure he doesn’t win, and because there’s 70 minutes of time to kill before he gets there on foot, the panda is trained in the martial arts. it’s kind of like Karate Kid, but if Mister Miyogi had long ago banished the Kobras and was running the karate tournament.”

(via Seward Street)

  • Grant Beaudette

    It’s hard to feel for someone who’s working for a clueless boss when he himself is clueless as well.

    Harmon’s attitude made a lot more sense to me once I found out he co-wrote Monster House, who’s most notable aspect to me was that it was written with a completely non-animation mindset.

  • Janet

    It’s all easy to understand when you’ve read any of Harmon’s “writing.”

    It’s awful, and not at all visual. Or entertaining.

  • Aw, I think you guys are being hard on Harmon. He did write a good comic book series in the 90s called La Cosa Nostroid. I’m not so into things like Laserfart and Computerman.

    Also Monster House was in fact rewritten and not written originally to be an animated feature. Rob Schrab also said that Monster House was original supposed to have internal organs inside the house and be a lot more disgusting. Oh well.

  • Writing with images? Creating a film based on a story the guiding hand wants to tell and not an anonymous “script” proper? Challenging conventional filmmaking with idea driven production roles? How stupid of an… oh, wait…

  • Paul N

    What do you expect from the awesome talent – writer, director, producer, star – of that cinematic masterpiece “Laser Fart”?

  • Nothing screams “professional” like long, drawn out public posts about individuals you have worked with in the past.

  • Altred Ego

    So…he should just keep quiet. That would be better for the animation community? He should just get his check and shut his mouth?

    I’m glad people talk about the industry for real. I’m glad that we still have something interesting to discuss. I’m glad that not everyone is so jaded that they don’t even care enough to talk about the problems.

    For the record, I saw KFP, it was a fun movie. It was a shallow and empty movie, but it was fun. It was the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy. Everyone loves it, but it isn’t really satisfying. Just fun for the time that you’re eating it.

    I hope many more people continue to speak openly about the industry. It’s animation not National Security.

  • On one hand I agree with Floyd Bishop, it’s not a very respectful gesture on Harmon’s part, but Altered Ego has a point– perhaps it is better if such matters were opening discussed (barring of course, the terms of non-disclosure agreements).
    People are starting to demand more “transparency” with their companies, yet they should realize, it is a two-way street. The company can look into your search history, visited blogs, and even facebook profiles. Like it or not, the courts have decided that internet posting on public forums are a form of publishing– only exchanges on instant messagers and email are consider private (until a formal investigation).
    So I guess it’s either develop a better online alias
    be morally upstanding and prepared for the consequences.

  • If you read what Harmon had to say, and if you can get through the ranting, he makes several good points about what doesn’t work in the Kung Fu Panda story. It was, in my opinion, a flat and uninspired story with weak two dimensional characters. There’s a lot of “fun and eye candy” to go around, but I’d have a hard time believing that script ever looked good on paper… or storyboards, for that matter. The “hero’s journey” followed a straight and shallow slope and the danger posed by the villain was vague and undefined (he was gonna steal a blank scroll anyways, who cares???) I’m with Amid: I’d like to see more features that seem like there was SOMEone with SOMEthing to say behind them and a lot of the current Hollywood crop seems to lack that. Just an opinion.

  • Hmmm.
    1) His surprise at discovering the film was boarded before it was written is probably common enough to folks who’ve never worked in animation before. It’s exactly the kind of thing to ruffle feathers around here. Most of us enjoyed the film so why not give us something to bitch about.

    2) Everything else he says is probably very true. This is a major commercial film made by a massive studio. How do you think these things get made?

  • ridgecity

    But remember he is a writer, most writers are already cookoo. Animation works with storyboards wether he likes it or not and will continue to work like that, why? because you are drawing the actors, and can get away with planning every shot, unlike reality were most great actors won’t even act what you written for their part, the rehearsal is what will appear on the movie, unless you are crazy and wanna do everything again…

    And everyone is free to say what they want. But if you don’t wanna look stupid you gotta first understand how things are done. And most Dreamworks movies aren’t meant to make you stop and stand at the crossroads of your life. They are meant to make money, unlike every most studios, that are there because they wanna tell a story…


    And they are aimed at kids not 40 year olds. When you have liked watching cartoons all your life, there comes an age when you could make your own for the younger generations to enjoy, instead of pointing the story simplicity flaws on a movie about a karateka panda. But why did Dan Harmon go with it as crazy as it sounds? for the money. Because movies for kids are where the money is.

  • “He should just get his check and shut his mouth?”

    Not at all. If you are a professional and you don’t voice your opinion on things in an effort to improve the project overall, then you aren’t doing your full job.

    There are ways to voice your opinion on such things in a constructive, professional, and much less public manner. Things happen for many reasons in productions of any kind, and decisions that are made are often done so with knowledge of things that not everyone on a staff knows about (or should know about).

    In my opinion, calling someone out on a public forum in such a negative light is poor form, regardless of if the person is “right” or not.

  • Theo Graves

    In corporate America, no one can hear you scream.

  • Michael Phillips

    The ironic thing about this whole letter, ranting against Katzenberg, is how successful Kung Fu Panda has been. Both artistically and Financially.

  • FP

    Funny rant. Good movie. Everybody wins.

    Passages such as this, however:
    I said, could we please dedicate this month’s 30 percent change to making the bad guy be the ruler of the town, and the prophecy is that this panda is supposed to dethrone him
    reveal that if this writer had his way, the film would have gone totally awry, and probably would have sucked.

    And this:
    The storyboard guys love that stuff. And it’s their movie.
    He says that as if it’s a bad thing.

  • 1

    The way he talks about it, it sounds like an awful way to write a movie. It sounds like there’s no single vision with the writing, like the whole film is written by a bunch of men who hate each other hunched around a cramped table, gazing at the clock every half a minute, wondering what they have to do to get out of there. It sounds like writing an entire movie with captionless New Yorker cartoons.

    Then again I know nothing more about the animation writing process, so who am I to judge.

  • Lance G.

    But from a story point of view, KFP was TERRIBLY weak. Nice summer kiddie movie, but not much else.

  • CA

    Having read the original Monster House script – I can say that everything interesting and meaningful in the final film was added by the director and subsequent writers – the original story that Harmon and Schrab wrote was nonsensical, pointless and crass. Monster House was my first job-offer out of school but after reading the original script I almost turned it down.

    It’s hard to respect someone whose main activity seems to be accepting paychecks, name-dropping Joseph Campbell and dissing the people who’ve worked hard to make his insipid writing into something better…

  • I can see the frustration of having to “write” just gags and changes to scenes, not structure to the whole of sequences. Meanwhile, Patton Oswalt has an AMAZING monologue about exactly this, so don’t think Harmon’s alone, regardless of talent! Too many fingers in the pot these days.

  • gjs

    It’s funny. You can tell this is an animators’ forum. I suspect the reaction would be different at a site called scriptbrew.com.

    I’m neither writer nor animator, but a fan of both. To me, KFP was a weak story and a visually captivating movie. Regardless of whatever you may think of Harmon, the bulk of his critique about the final product is accurate.

    As an outsider, I’m curious: Why wouldn’t a writer (or director or studio head) be allowed to re-do most of the story early in the process? Didn’t I read that movies like “Ratatouille” went through exactly these kind of major changes.

    Appreciate any education on the matter. I find this fascinating.

  • I think that post must be a fake.

    Real Hollywood arguments always end with someone shouting “You’ll never work in this town again!”, don’t they?

  • Wow, as a writer, I’m disappointed by how anti-writer (“they’re all cuckoo”) this blog seems to be, or at least those who have commented today. It’s ironic to me that a single individual, Mr. Harmon, whom I’ve never met, is let in for a barrage of insults, and a giant corporation is defended for its artistic virtues. There’s also a lot of misinformation in these comments. For example, many animated movies begin with a script. In fact, for feature-length animation, I would say virtually every movie has begun with a script. It gives the artists something to board. Anyone who’s gone through the Katzenberg mill — or the Disney mill, for that matter — has a right to complain. Whether they choose to do so in public, of course, is up to them. And by “anyone” I mean the board artists, too. Believe me, they’re stepped on just as squarely. The cost of making movies, especially animated ones, has gotten so high, as well as the stakes of turning a profit, that the studios have turned into real meat grinders in an effort to reproduce success. When the process works, you get Pixar movies. When it doesn’t, you get enough failures to make the Disney execs feel justified in firing almost all of the board artists in the company, as happened a few years ago. When commerce and creativity meet, you’re going to get suffering — and it ain’t going to be the Jeffrey Katzenbergs of the world.

  • As a screenwriter, I have always been told to “write what you see”. A script is not a novel. It must be visual.
    As a story artist, I have held the position that storyboards are screenwriting in its purest form. We literally tell the story in pictures.

    It’s just sad that feature animation story artists do not get writer credits when they come up with as much or more material than the writers do.

    I pitched a board that was primarily action – almost no dialog. Afterward the writer joked, “I really like this. I can’t wait to write it all down and get credit for it.” We all laughed at the comment, but his off hand joke made a serious point.

  • Chuck R.

    Floyd Bishop: you’re right on the money about good form.

    I know it’s popular sport here to knock down Katzenberg and Michael Eisner, but somehow in the late 80’s and 90’s, Roger Rabbit, The Little Mermaid, Toy Story, The Lion King, and Nightmare Before Christmas all managed to get through Disney’s pipeline. Even if K and E weren’t the creative forces responsible for these films, don’t they deserve a bit of respect for at least allowing them to be made?

  • Jason

    You know, I felt kind of sorry for the leopard in Kung Fu Panda, and couldn’t quite figure out why, because I knew I’m not supposed to. But I DID. And now I know why, thanks to Mr. Harmon’s rant. I mean, I like Po – he’s hard not to like – but how does his “suffering” – stuck working in a noodle restaurant for a kindly father goose while dreaming fanboy dreams of kung fu glory – compare to Tai Lung’s suffering – being trained relentlessly, promised the pain and effort will earn you a great honor and destiny, and then when the time comes for your hard-earned reward, some old fart turtle shakes his head and walks away? And then your slavedriving master doesn’t defend you? I imagine he WOULD get pissed. And then he’s thrown in prison and treated like crap for 20 years. Gee that totally wouldn’t mess with his head, right?

    I also wondered why the character I liked the least was the kung fu master. I couldn’t figure that out either, because I knew I was supposed to feel sorry for him. But now I know it’s because, when you get right down to it, he’s kind of a dick. Thanks again, Mr. Harmon! KFP’s eye candy overwhelmed my brain in a way that not even the second Star War’s trilogy did – I realized right away that *it* was crap. Yet it made money too. I guess eye candy is enough for some people…

  • You guys cut and pasted excerpts from a post in a forum where I talk to people who are there to read what I wrote, where I frequently express my personal feelings about my work and say horrible things about myself. You made something that already existed in its full context, one click away, into your own “article” by adding mocking editorial about how stupid I am for not understanding the obvious fact that because an animated film involves drawing, it’s always written last. You gave it the headline “Dan Harmon talks a bunch of shit about Jeffrey Katzenberg” to draw web traffic, and your readers follow this bit of reporting with a bunch of comments about how my experience as a writer in an animation factory is meaningless because I didn’t enjoy it and because my imdb entry contains silly titles of videos I make for my own fulfillment instead of money. And you hate public ranting. And ungrateful, unprofessional people.

    What do you guys like? Cartoons and… journalism? Cartoons and prudence? Fairness? Restraint? Order? Justice? Love?

    You know, the more you do this to people who say things, the less and less is going to get said, and you’re going to have to hunt harder and harder for the next guy to entertain you with his unpunished foibles. You kind of finished me up, here. I’ve been saying things on the internet for 15 years, and this is the first hint I’ve gotten that I should think twice before I say anything. And I’m taking the hint, believe me. Sorry to either waste your time and/or make your day with my failings.

  • Fenella S

    You’ll have to excuse Cartoonbrew Mr. Harmon. While I’m not completely sympathetic with all that you’ve said, Cartoonbrew is populated by bitter animators who’s too much of a chicken to voice their own opinion. It’s like Fox News, but for cartoonists.

  • reader

    Dan Harmon, you’ve learned what should be an obvious truism: as a matter of fact, YES, you should “think twice before [you] say anything” on the internet. If this is seriously the first hint you’ve had of that in 15 years, you’ve been incredibly fortunate.

    Personally, however you meant your remarks in whichever (public) forum, you have: insulted your former employer personally, insulted the artists who have the gall to imagine it’s “their” film(news flash: it was), and you overall seem to be pretty clueless about the film business after too much well paying work to explain that same cluelessness.

    I’m sorry you had your words taken out of context and cross posted here-it does suck-but I read the complete rant on the other link, and it was just as ill advised as it came off sounding here.

    What do I like? Cartoons and appreciation. Cartoons and…a knowledge of animation history-maybe even just the last 20 years of it. Cartoons and…skilled work. Cartoons and…a sense of humor. Cartoons and…pride in making them while understanding that any of us are lucky if we get one word and one drawing onscreen. We work on these films for 3-4 years. How long was your ordeal?

    By the way, I’ve written actual words recorded by famous brilliant actors in multimillion dollar pictures for an hourly wage and no credit. Guess what? That’s the job. I’m not a sucker. I knew the score when I did it. I knew someone like you would have a screen credit instead.

    And lastly: Kung Fu Panda is a fun, beautiful, genuinely entertaining movie, enhanced at every step by the artists who worked on it.
    Bravo to them.

  • copy and pasted from my post on the channel 101 forum:
    I’m not really surprised by the reaction at the cartoon brew. It’s just how things work on alot of animated features and TV shows. Spongebob Squarepants is mainly written via storyboards and Fairly Odd Parents is mainly script based. The problem is neither of these approaches are wrong. It just depends on the driving force behind it. A friend of mine is one of those storyboard guys a dreamworks (though he didn’t work on kung fu panda), and to say he isn’t a writer is really a disservice to his skills. Most of his job as a storyboard artist is to be a writer, but he writes in a visual language. Dan on the other hand is a master of the written word and that’s his medium of choice. Both ways of writing have their strengths and weaknesses, both can work great and both can potentially fail. It all just comes down to story. Unfortunately, it sounds like Dan either worked with a rigid group or they had already devoted alot of time and already had several scenes animated. Typically, there are several story board pitch sessions to get the story refined and perfected before any animation starts and ideally Dan should have been a part of this process to truly utilize his skills, but it sounds like he and Rob were pretty much brought in to do some punch up. Which is sort of a weird thing, Patton Oswalt talks a bit about it on his last album.

    To get back to Kung Fu Panda, I’ve seen it and agree with Dan about the story issues, but I don’t blame it on the the fact they used storyboard artists that wrote the story. It’s just a bad example for how that system works. I mean Indy 4 had alot of problems but I’m not blaming it on the fact that the script was typed. There are just good stories and sometimes stories fall apart.
    If you want to see that process done right, just look at Pixar.

    On a side note, I respect Dan Harmon very much and think he’s a fantastic writer. A lot of what I’ved learned about writing I learned from reading his writing tutorials. What he was saying at dreamworks is what he as a professional writer thought would be best for the film. Obviously he had frustrations with how the process works in a lot of animated features, but he shouldn’t be mocked just because how he works as a writer is something different from how most of us visually minded people like to work. Let’s just all try to our best to tell great stories in the way that makes us the most happy and all be entertained.

  • ridgecity

    Dear Dan Harmon:

    most of us are into animation, either work, or wanna work or just watch it, big budget or not. Short films tend to be “a story told using animation”, big blockbusters tend to be “an animation showcase using a story” That a movie gets a good treatment it’s not the norm, and most of us can count the animated masterpieces than work on a good story basis with a single hand and most of them already have 20- 40 year anniversaries already. Big Studios mass produce movies like this and it’s a ton of work mostly done in asian countries, not by the 30 guys you see in Hollywood drinking milkshakes. I don’t know at what time during production you came in, but I’m pretty sure you got there to fix what’s already been done bad. That’s why the limit you to change tiny things, because another render with a panda with a bucket in his head was done by someone else maybe in some other country and probably it’s even already getting the sounds put in.

    The internet is mostly angry people trying to vent their opinions about stuff they can’t talk about in real life with people that might not share their opinions, and some people can write out of their asses just to prove a point, so don’t take it personal. You did a good job even if you didn’t like it. look at the tickets, it will probably do well at the awards also. The movie is good.

    As gjs says:

    “It’s funny. You can tell this is an animators’ forum. I suspect the reaction would be different at a site called scriptbrew.com.”

    Very much true. And it would get a whole different opinion from guys in the forums from cgsociety.com, guys that make the wheels turn for CGI. Everyone has their strength and weaknesses, and this site focuses in animation in it’s final form, I guess. An we work with storyboards, kind of like comic books, visual stuff is faster for interpretation than detailed descriptions of the shots.

    And most “good” writers are crazy… that’s a fact of life. I didn’t meant as an insult, it’s just the way it has always been and you can get away with some stuff go read Cervantes, Kafka, Isabel Allende or Hemingway and even Shakespeare, different eras, all cookoo.

    (forgive me if I have any spelling errors as english is my second language and mix words with spanish sometimes)

  • robiscus

    “Cartoons and…pride in making them while understanding that any of us are lucky if we get one word and one drawing onscreen. We work on these films for 3-4 years.”

    Hey buddy – no one force you to work at a major studio so please spare us the long sad story about your sacrifice(the union pay and sweet healthcare package must be brutal). THATS the trade off. You sacrificed your singular vision to work on a team and throw your effort into a pot with little or no chance anything you do will shine through. In return for this you get a fat paycheck. Don’t hang yourself up on the cross too quickly there.

    You could just have easily worked 40 hours a week at Jiffy Lube and made your own animated films in your spare time and if you were as accomplished as you say you are, then the work would not only make the viewer happy, but it would make you happy as well and you wouldn’t be bitching and moaning in the CartoonBrew forums. The animation community has plenty of people that do what you do and too few that do what i just described. You have the cushy career without any voice – but thats the deal you made. Live with it and stop your howling.

  • I for one think Dan is a champion.
    Well done, I say.

  • Stephen

    Funny. I always imagined that all animated features were created like a Neil Gaiman-Dave Mckean collaboration.

    But apparently it’s much more typical for the animators and writers to just growl and bicker at each other for not understanding “their” unique artistic vision. Shame.

  • Interesting. I saw KFP this weekend with my son, and I agree with the previous poster who said the kung-fu master was a dick.
    Compare this movie, which had great visuals and some ok plot points, to “Mulan” which is one of my favorite films.
    As to Dan H, you’re 100% right about this movie not really making sense, i.e. a leopard walking a great distance to fight a panda that’s trying to take a dumpling from his master.

    You just have to remember that while it’s great to be unfettered and write a rant that your friends will read and laugh at. once you post it, anyone can grab it and do what they will with your words.

    Obviously you are working in the industry, so you should be used to the way these things get made, by committee, and everyone at the table has to get his “gag” in, etc.

    Two months ago, I finished an animated commercial with a ridiculously short deadline.

    Once it was finished, and turned in, I didn’t hear a word.

    The next day, I couldn’t take it, so I called the studio to talk to the art director, and was told that everything was fine, but the day before there was a problem because one of the managers didn’t care for the VOICE of the dog in the commercial. This was after the boarding, animatic, rough animation and final animation and lip-syncing.

  • Dave

    I don’t know anything about Dan Harmon’s previous work.

    It does sound like someone at Dreamworks could have educated him more at the beginning of the production on how storyboards and scripts work in tandem on an animated film . And the fact that it becomes increasingly difficult to change things more than “30%” as the animation is completed in each sequence because of the enormous cost and time factor involved in remodeling characters, props, etc. (in theory the film’s story problems ought to be worked out at the storyboard/animatic stage so that there aren’t a lot of changes once animation is moving through the pipeline) .

    However, Mr. Harmon makes some good points about the story holes in KFP.

    Speaking of the villain and how easily he is defeated , despite being set up as this unstoppable force , Harmon says:

    “Because he’s not destined to. But just to make sure he doesn’t win, and because there’s 70 minutes of time to kill before he gets there on foot, the panda is trained in the martial arts. It’s kind of like Karate Kid, but if Mister Miyagi had long ago banished the Kobras and was running the karate tournament.”

    Exactly. No real dramatic tension.

    And in the end the “prophecy” holds : Po defeats Tai Lung despite still being an out-of-shape kung fu neophyte with barely three days of training . Ok, ok, yes, it’s just a silly comedy and who cares about being “logical” as long as the laughs are flowing ? But the movie itself sets up Tai Lung as a real threat and this confrontation is supposed to be dramatic , but the inherent weakness of the situation undercuts the drama of the scene. And how did Tai Lung break out of the maximum security prison to begin with ? He was completely immobilized in some sort of elaborate torture device … but the lock clicks open easily when a duck feather oh-so-conveniently floats down into the lock and it just clicks open . (Huh ? How?) Then all of a sudden he’s free and defeats a 1000 elite guards. Then later on the bridge he defeats all 5 of the highly trained Kung Fu warriors. All 5 of them together can’t stop Tai Lung , but Po who is out of shape and barely trained can ? Oh, right : because of the prophecy and he learns to believe in himself . Right. Got it. Does anyone really buy that ?

    This and other illogical/inconsistent story choices in KFP keep it from being a great movie. It is a beautiful to look at movie , very well-crafted in terms of the animation and art direction , but there’s something lacking in the story. I think what everyone has been gushing about has more to do with the look of the film.

    So, yes, it’s the best Dreamworks CG animated feature to date . But no, it’s not a great picture in terms of the story.

    It is not “Dreamworks bashing” to point out these internal flaws in the story of KFP . These flaws keep it from being a great movie. It’s ok. It was mildly entertaining. Loved the animation and art direction , but it’s frustrating that it couldn’t take that extra step up in film making quality.

  • DCompose

    He posted that on a FORUM for a website he created. He didn’t try to make it big news like the geniuses at Cartoon Brew.

    And it’s true, Kung Fu Panda was f***g stupid. The mouse master was the bad guy! Not only did he train the bad snow leopard (whatever their f****g names are) and conceivably turn him evil by filling his head with lies and b***t, he also tried to keep the GOOD GUY OUT. So in any other movie, we’d hate this guy, but by the end, the Panda cleans up the f***g mouse’s mess and he is redeemed and we’re supposed to… applaud? That he turned the bad guy to dust because he wanted to… fight? Can anyone actually recall what this movie’s about?

  • The rant was interesting to read, but also full of ignorance and selfishness. The concept of this movie was a celebration of Kung Fu movies with extra nods to Jackie Chan movies. The point of it was to get to major set-piece fights to get to an ending that shows the plucky, funny character (who is still learning and observing) defeating the stern heavy (who thinks they know everything already). Those Kung Fu movies were primarily visual with weak stories that were fun because they were weak. Those stories were only there to bridge the big set piece fights. Kung Fu Panda was supposed to evoke that, and possibly give a bit more.

    When Dan came into things and, instead of making those bridges stronger, was saying “well, how about we change everything completely?” which is extremely unhelpful, willful and selfish in this kind of creative endeavor. It’s like an improv scene where one actor enters the stage saying “well, time to get the noodles cooking! The customers will be here soon, and Dad hates it when I’m late for the dinner rush” and the other performer enters and says “HA HA! Evil Emperor! Your reign is at an end!” Instead of justifying and building the original idea, he fell so in love with his own ideas that he disregaurded everyone elses out of hand.

    Boarding takes a lot of time and effort. Scripting does too. Deciding so quickly that everything that’s been done so far is worthless and needs to be completely changed is a horrible thing that will definitely breed resentment in the people who have been working up to that point. The Warner Brothers animators removed the option of saying “no” or rejecting any idea from their story process, partly to encourage creation, but also do discourage one person’s ego from trampling everyone else’s.

    Personally, I liked the story of the movie as it came about. The complaint I’m hearing is that the Master Shifu character was a bastard and unsympathetic, and that Tai Lung was hard to feel sorry for because he worked so hard, was denied and then had to undergo torturous imprisonment. What I saw was a story about introspection, love of work being more important than rank at work, and the call to support the interested instead of just glorifying the tallented.

    Master Shifu was a bad teacher, but a bad teacher like a lot of teachers are bad: he focused on the students that could and would teach themselves and praised them, but belittled and gave up on those that had interest and wanted help and guidance. When his favorite had gotten to the point where he couldn’t be taught any more, he wanted the gift of final realization, but he couldn’t have understood it, so it was denied him, and he showed his rage at this decision by attacking his teachers. When he was released, he went to take that bit of realization by force, and by that time, his ex-teacher knew that, if he saw what it was, he would be so disappointed that he would kill many people. Tai-Lung is in no way a messianic sufferer, he is a dangerous talent spoiled by praise. Very much a foil for Po, who goes on to show Shifu the joy in actually teaching, and who works hard because of the love of the work and in spite of criticism.

    Even the message of the movie flies in the face of what Dan was doing. “I can’t believe you chose that story! Why can’t it be about a noodle maker taking on an opressive emperor!” “Because it isn’t” “THAT’S A MISTAKE!” “There are no mistakes.” “How can that make a good movie!?!” “Believe in it and shape and nurture it, and it can become great.”

  • gregm

    Yes Roger, these films start with a script, especially in the independent world, because that is the only way we can get financing on board and distribution lined up. Jeffrey insisted this be the case at the places he ran, but during the golden age of Disney (when Walt was still alive) this didn’t seem to be the case. Geniuses like Bill Peet simply storyboarded out the entire movie themselves, based on a book or their own take, or Walt’s take on a story.

    A good Director can create a great film with a vision of a story and a hot team of Board Artists. He doesn’t have to have a finished refined script to work from. It does work.

  • Oh, I see. Since this guy is a writer he’s fair game.

    We’ve taken Lasseter to task for replacing Chris Sanders on Bolt/American Dog and made a big spectacle about it, but he made a great point about directors and writers being canned left and right on Kung Fu Panda, which in all probability compromised what the film could’ve been, its inconsequential.

  • I don’t have the time to read the responses to my comment (I don’t mean that in a wow-i’m-so-above-it way, it’s just a busy week), but Rob Schrab wanted me to let cartoonbrew.com know that any statements I make aren’t his, and my opinions aren’t his, that kind of thing. Understandable. Rob’s not a crazy self destructive ranter like me, he’s a good guy, and a line-tower, and he happens to be a brilliant artist, so you guys would love him, and I don’t know what more to say, just don’t associate him with me if you were doing that.

  • Jason

    Lucas makes some interesting points, and still there is the fact that when I finished watching KFP, I felt unsatisfied. First of all, that Po beat Tai Lung too easily (one day of training was all it took to defeat this fearsome monster? Right). Secondly, that we don’t know what happened exactly to Tai Lung. Third, how exactly the kung fu master found peace. He created a great kung fu fighter who went beserk under the pressure, then he created another fighter to throw at the first one and correct his mistake. I don’t know…not every satisfying.

  • Chris Hatfield

    I loved the movie. Now that I’ve some weeks to gather my thoughts, I’m starting to see the holes in the story. I wished the story could’ve been a little tigther, but compared to some of DreamWorks other films, KFP is a step in the right direction. For all its flaws it had the most heart out of the catalog of DreamWorks Films.

    Dan made some good points not going to jump down his throat on certain issues, which seemed a little skewed.

    Wish I had to Cahoones to bitch about my boss and job. You got balls Dan.

  • Dan Payette

    The film is making a killing at the box office and has been very well reviewed by critics and fans alike. Whatever a bunch of grouchy writers and animators think, KFP is going to be Dreamworks’ biggest hit.

    To Dan, as a board artist myself it kinda makes me mad to read comments such as yours when you obviously don’t know much about the animation process. These things are a true collaborative process and as a writer, you should have known that going in. We all have to learn to work together and even highly paid writers should understand that no one individual, outside of maybe a guy like Kats or Lassetter, is above the process.

    The story in Kung Fu Panda may not be thought provoking or entirely hole-proof, but it’s damn entertaining. There’s not a lot of that at the movies these days. Congratulations to EVERYONE who worked on it.

  • The original article was interesting, because sometimes producers think writers are magicians who can make a dull scene interesting with the change of a couple of words. (Maybe add more exclamation points!)

    Often the problems in the film are more structural, but there isn’t the money for reshoots. Still, somebody has to take the blame, so why not the third rewrite writer? I’ve learned in the business that people get fired a lot, and don’t get credit, but you don’t take it personally, and it usually doesn’t reflect badly.

  • Dave (Odd)

    I have to give Dan credit as well, for speaking freely, although I’m sure he never meant his comments to become a post at Cartoon Brew. I didn’t see that he was particularly blaming the storyboard artists for anything, but rather the arbitrary and limiting choices made by the execs there. And Dan’s comments have a real place in the discussion now that KFP’s main weakness has been established as being in its story. I hope that some of his future employers will see him as someone with integrity, rather than attempting to lynch him for making some (admittedly grumpy) remarks in defense of animation standards.

  • Alejandro

    Po taking out Tai Lung with three day’s training does require some very special abilities on Po’s part, but there are some subtle indications that he might just be adopted. Perhaps there is some mystical Drunken Panda Boxing masters in his genetic family tree.

    That special ability of Po’s took me out of the story a bit, but in the end I decided, so what? The prison escape was beautifully shot and exciting. The fight on the bridge even more so. It’s a very standard kung-fu movie plot, and I think that’s part of why it worked so well for me.

    Po is Harry Potter, with in-born, unteachable superiority, instead of Daniel-son, who trains hard with Mr. Miyagi, an everyman who overcomes. Well, good for him.

    Unrelated to any story issues with Kung Fu Panda, could someone out there make an entire movie in the art style of the opening dream sequence? I just couldn’t get enough of that. So beautiful.

  • robiscus

    “I didn’t see that he was particularly blaming the storyboard artists for anything, but rather the arbitrary and limiting choices made by the execs there.”

    Exactly. There is some really thin skin in here for artists to be imagining that Dan’s post was some sort of an affront to their careers.

  • MattSullivan

    Mr. Harmon,

    I completely understand your frustration. To you, we must seem like a bunch of nerdy artists who feel entitled to all the credit. The thing is, those of us who’ve worked in this business know that if something goes wrong, WE tend to get the blame. ( I was once in an elevator where a suit remarked to another suit, “I hate dealing with all these artists. If we could find a way to get rid of them I wouldn’t mind working in animation.” )

    I have to think that a lot of this criticism comes from a lot of bitter artists who have worked their way up, pitched their own projects, and struggle like CRAZY to make it in this business. I wouldn’t look at it as personal, or as an attack. We get crapped on, so we turn right around and crap on others ( unfortunately )

    If anyone here seems defensive it’s because we love this business, have poured our hearts and souls into it, and in some cases, have DIED at our drawing tables. This used to be OUR business….run mostly by artists..and then time changed…and people in suits became the ones in charge. Since then, it’s been a struggle to make art and original stories…since the bottom line is priority one nowadays.

    Writers weren’t MUCH of a factor in the old days. Our animation instructors liked to tell us “We don’t need writers. We can make our own films. I myself had a terrible opinion of writers as “unnecessary”, that is, until I decided I wanted to pitch my own movies.

    Guess what happened. I had to become…a writer. Something completely foreign to me. I still don’t know if I’m any good at it. but I have COMPLETE respect for writers now. And to become a GOOD writer is hard. It’s REALLY, REALLY hard. Harder than being an animation artist, that’s for sure.

    I liked Kung Fu Panda, for many reasons. I can only imagine that many of my favorite parts were attributed to the hard work of you and your partner.

  • Jeff

    So according to Lucas Ryan, this movie’s core argument was that the wildly unqualified kid — who has “passion” he’s never backed up with more than a day’s worth of effort — should trump the dutiful, dedicated student whose talent is belied by his martyrdom? That the teacher should ignore those who do want to learn in favor of those who should want to learn?

    That’s a shitty point of view. It’s also the perfect antithesis of “The Incredibles.” No wonder I like Pixar more.

    And Lucas, I think it’s pretty clear that Harmon’s response was not that of a man who “fell so in love with his own ideas,” but that of a man whose name had just been attached to a disastrously bad, embarrassing story that, as you note, was essentially designed to hurry viewers from one absurd fight sequence to another. Wouldn’t you fight to avoid that fate?

    It’s disappointing to read comment after comment castigating the desire for logical, compelling storytelling if it should come at the expense of empty spectacle. On the other hand, it helps explain the state of American cinema.

  • Don Walters

    I can’t stand him either.

  • Jeff said: “….That’s a shitty point of view. It’s also the perfect antithesis of “The Incredibles.” No wonder I like Pixar more….”

    The Incredibles were born “super” they didn’t work for it! The VILLAIN in the Incredibles is the jealous boy who had to study and invent his powers!
    I don’t see how you can see that as an antithesis to Kung Fu Panda. The Heroes in both films seem to be born awesome. The villains are those who had to work for it!!!

  • This has been a really interesting discussion to watch.

    I’ve been a long time reader at both CartoonBrew & Channel 101, and am a passing acquaintance of Dan’s. And I am a writer and an artist myself (but I work in advertising which puts me lower than everyone else combined ;) I can tell you, he has a very high appreciation of artists and their work. In my view, he has never put himself above them or has belittled their work in any capacity. And I think people are mistaking the tone of his post as being some sort of rant against the storyboard guys (not everyone, of course. A lot of commenters get what he’s saying).

    I think the problem here was that Dreamworks/Katzenberg were having structural problems with their story, brought in two writers to fix the problems, and then threw roadblocks in their way at every step. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to be hired to work on a story that isn’t your own and then only be allowed to “fix” things that are peripheral to the actual problems.

    It’s not that Dan was trying to change the story, or “take credit” for it, or make a name for himself. This is a guy that REALLY prizes story structure and has spent quite some time deconstructing the Hero’s Journey and I’m sure he thought that it would fix all of the problems to inject the classic touchstones into the existing framework. Which, of course, was not allowed.

    And to blame Dan for not understanding the animation process is ludicrous. He’s not an “animation writer”. He was hired by the studio and dropped into a situation that was probably not explained very clearly, and I can bet he had almost no contact with the actual board artists who originated the story or the writers who came before.

    We all celebrate the classic Disney films, and herald Pixar’s current output. But those films are great in large part because the story problems get worked out in advance. Or if they don’t, then the footage gets scrapped (Ratatouille), the director gets replaced (Toy Story 2), or a new direction is taken altogether (Jungle Book). But the great movies rarely get a band-aid during production that suddenly makes them great.

    And I think that’s why Dan was unhappy about a situation that he probably saw as being fixable, if only he was allowed to try and fix it. Especially since the art and animation was looking so great. Why skimp on story?


    PS I know a lot of folks here love KFP and are happy for its success. That’s fine. But to me it is sad when a movie is successful because of the artistry involved in the visuals but the story itself doesn’t live up to the art (See: Star Wars Prequels). Why wouldn’t you want a classic, instead of just a hit? But then, this is the studio that brought us Shrek. And Shrek 2, And Shrek 3….

  • FP

    From TAG BLOG:

    –A story crew has started early work in Kung Fu Panda, the Sequel, even while animators are hand-drawing new material for the DVD of Kung Fu Panda, the original–

  • I really liked KFP, but I can also see how working in animation could drive a writer crazy.
    (Anyway, since I don’t know just how brilliant Dan Harmon’s vision would have been, I’ll reserve judgement.)

  • The Vok

    I can only assume Dan Harmon hates movies like ‘Kung Fu Hustle’ … which is probably why working on this one was a bad fit.

    The story is simple and fantastical but solid. The panda is not ‘awesome,’ but rather the opposite of the snow leopard. Like Homer Simpson, he has amazing endurance for taking punches (and kicks, tosses, etc.). Irresistible force means unmovable object, that sort of thing.

    Yes, it’s okay to sympathize for the leopard. There is no such thing as evil. Everyone is the hero of his/her own story.

    As for the master, yes, he has a troubled past. He acknowledges that and works to redeem himself. By earning some measure of redemption, he is able to be at peace. He is even willing to die for his past sins, which is more than one can say for most of the other characters in this movie.

    Don’t make the mistake of criticizing ‘Kung Fu Panda’ for not being like other Hollywood kids’ movies. If anything, criticize it for where it is less than faithful in its attempts to honour and pay homage to great kung fu cinema.

    I agree for example that the action scenes are well-staged, but they are also too rushed. We don’t really get a showcase of praying mantis style, etc. As such, it’s ironically the rare kind of kung fu movie for kids that probably won’t actually motivate those kids to go learn kung fu well. But that’s just a guess on my part ….

  • J. J. Hunsecker

    I think it was Mr. Harmon’s lack of knowledge of animation’s history that irked a lot of people here. Stating surprise that an animated cartoon was written with storyboards is strange, considering that the majority of animated cartoons from the late 30’s through the early 60’s were written solely with the storyboard process, not with typewritten scripts.

    Some of those classic cartoons have weak plots or stories; others are perfect. Some are hilarious, while others are corny. Some board artists were better at story and gags than others. (Mike Maltese vs. Ben Hardaway, for example.) That’s irrelevant, though. The point is that they were written with boards because animation was a drawn medium (back then), and drawing the story was easier and resulted in better cartoons than typewriting them.

    Had Mr. Harmon known this beforehand he might have known what he was getting himself into, and probably could have avoided a bad situation.

  • Wulfraed

    A late entry from a “consumer”…

    I see lots of comparisons to classical Kung Fu (or other martial arts movies — nonsense story connecting highly choreographed fight scenes).

    Let me state that: 1) I actually did not go to see Po — it was Shifu I was interested in (BTW : Shifu is not a mouse or any other rodent — He is a firefox; more commonly known as a red panda; there are, thereby, TWO “kung fu panda”s in the movie).

    As for the story… Seen it… It was called “Star Wars”; the only thing missing was a terminal redemption of Tai Lung. Consider: Tortoise/Shifu combine Yoda/Ben Kenobi (my apologies, but the original movie made it seem that “Obiwan” was an honorific title); Tai Lung is Darth Vader, taught by Shifu/Kenobi, who went to the dark side after he couldn’t get his way; Po is Luke Skywalker, eventually taken on for initial training by Shifu/Kenobi, and who eventually has to face Tai Lung/Vader in a final battle…

    Another poster commented on the silliness of a fight over a blank scroll… But to this one, the scroll was not blank, it was a shiny reflective silk surface, revealing that the final secret technique was… Be Yourself — not what some one else thinks one should be.

    And in closing: I must say I loved the ending standoff… “Shifu didn’t teach you THAT!?” “No, I figured this out on my own”

  • Jason

    *And in closing: I must say I loved the ending standoff… “Shifu didn’t teach you THAT!?” “No, I figured this out on my own”*

    Now that to me was the movie’s weakest moment. Totally unbelievable. This panda that could barely climb a flight of stairs (and still has trouble with it despite his crash-course in kung fu) figured out this mysterious, incredibly destructive move using only one’s pinkie finger all on his own. IMO, the writers put that in there to make him seem SOMEWHAT capable. Nah, sorry, didn’t buy it at all.

  • Walter

    Oh, Cartoon Brew. How do you so frequently manage to sift through the internet, find an interesting piece of animation-related information, and then miss the point completely? Dan Harmon is not criticizing Katzenberg. He’s not criticizing Kung Fu Panda. He’s not criticizing animation. He’s giving an honest, first impression look at the messy process of animated film-making from an outsider’s perspective. He’s also a hilarious writer and makes a totally legitimate point- that point primarily being that to be hired as a punch up writer and then told to fix a scene, but that all you can change is some minute detail, completely misunderstands what makes a scene/movie successful. I found Kung Fu Panda to be charming and delightful, the best Dreamworks movie by far. But does that mean that Dreamwork’s process for film-making is perfect? Hell no. This is the first time (in my opinion) their story process has actually worked, and not because of, but in SPITE of the carelessly structured boarding and then hasty re-writing that so often defines the Dreamworks story process. Sometimes the best way to get an honest opinion is to ask someone from a different field. We should always be looking for ways to make our story process smarter, more efficient, and more effective, and we shouldnt bite the head off of someone for casually noticing what a silly and backwards system we’ve invented for ourselves.

  • I agree with Walter above completely.

    I think that Dan Harmon is just being completely honest and factual about how animated features are being produced and how challenging the process of making something as delightful and hilarious as Kung Fu Panda can be.

    As the taste buds of viewers become more and more sophisticated as they are exposed to better and better movies, coming up with the next better script to surprise and thrill them would become increasingly challenging.

    Remember the days when we were thrilled and amazed by Star Wars (okay, I know some of us still are)? In the 1980s the special effects were amazing to say the least. Today we have seen so much special fx on the big screen that even the most extravagant effects do not move us.

    Content is king. Script is key. I salute Dan and all the other scriptwriters for givng us laughter, joy and tears.

  • Steve Carras

    1.I loved it.. although I noticed it had (I,like “:Horton Hears a Who”) a very long scene involving a primitive sujspension bridgbe.

    2.To the commentator who sometghiong like carotons are for kids not 40 year olds..withg the Brady Bunch era music and ANgelina Joli and stuff this is just for KIDS?? I’m 47 and MY generaiton would react to Kuing Fu fighting For Kids? Like the Warner Bros.Cartoons? WEhat next, Flitnstones and Rocky sand Bullwinlkle were? Money is in films for kids? Were the makers of Dover Biys and Coal Black thimnking that? or Gerlad McBoing Boing or Mr.Magoo?? THis is for ADULTS (which the defenderts of this clearly are..as are the creator, and as DFreamworks and eveyrone else involved porudly will point out..MOST of the AUDIENCE–how may KIDS will even enjoy “Kung Fu Fighting,” heard on the end, or the very square but refreshingly appealing Zimmer/Powell Chinese style music used?)

  • ookla

    that’s why I love Pixar… ;)

  • Roberto

    Jason said

    “And now I know why, thanks to Mr. Harmon’s rant. I mean, I like Po – he’s hard not to like – but how does his “suffering” – stuck working in a noodle restaurant for a kindly father goose while dreaming fanboy dreams of kung fu glory – compare to Tai Lung’s suffering – being trained relentlessly, promised the pain and effort will earn you a great honor and destiny, and then when the time comes for your hard-earned reward, some old fart turtle shakes his head and walks away? And then your slavedriving master doesn’t defend you? I imagine he WOULD get pissed. And then he’s thrown in prison and treated like crap for 20 years. Gee that totally wouldn’t mess with his head, right?”

    Not really, his head was a mess BEFORE they sent him to prison. I agree with your other points, but it seems that Tai Lung definitely became dangerous before he was sent to prison. True, Po’s suffering can’t be compared with Tai Lung’s suffering but he was also trained and it was hard to him, but he’s more of a good-natured guy and even if the master had forgotten about him Po won’t have became dangerous or mad enough to hurt innocent people(it’s implied that Tai Lung killed some ordinary people).

    Jason said “I also wondered why the character I liked the least was the kung fu master. I couldn’t figure that out either, because I knew I was supposed to feel sorry for him. But now I know it’s because, when you get right down to it, he’s kind of a dick. Thanks again, Mr. Harmon! KFP’s eye candy overwhelmed my brain in a way that not even the second Star War’s trilogy did – I realized right away that *it* was crap. Yet it made money too. I guess eye candy is enough for some people…”

    Tai Lung was kind of a weak character, but Shifu wasn’t a dick, I actually thought he was the most deep and interesting character cause he had a past. It’s not like he’s not sorry because of what happened to Tai Lung and it’s not his fault that he became such a bad guy anyway. Again, it’s implied that Tai Lung was already ambitious and had the potential to be mean before Shifu abandoned him. The lousy aspects of Tai Lung’s personality are not clear enough but it seems the turtle can predict the future. And besides, all these was told in a fast flashback. Maybe in three movies like the new Star Wars trilogy they could have shown the dark aspects of Tai Lung with more detail.

    That said I also felt a little sad when they killed Tai Lung at the end, but that’s something that has always happened to him in most animated films. I don’t think they should kill the bad guys cause that way you are being almost as cruel as they are, just send them to prison or something.

  • speed juicy frog white boy day student elephant red tree land

  • I think you mean entertainINgly, Amid.

  • jowfair

    Late post, but just my two cents that – aside from Mr. Harmon’s break with tactfulness – his post also suffers since the hackneyed Christian/Marxist tropes he proposed are so much worse (let alone less entertaining) than the finished movie.

    It’s understandable that some viewers will take issue with the Greek-style Fate or wish that a movie set in China were less feudal and more revolutionary in its outlook. People with deep father issues will probably hate it outright and need some extra therapy sessions. But there are very few plot holes – the Five were less effective because their master had drilled them harshly and by rote owing to his damaged past, Tai Lung was doomed for failure because an ambition unleavened by empathy led to cruelty alienating to those around him including his superiors, Po succeeded thanks to natural gifts that used Tai Lung’s blind force against him, gifts which in the end justified his selection at the beginning. Tai Lung shouldn’t be unrecognizable evil; Shifu doesn’t have to be perfect – it makes the story more recognizable and affecting and creates the story arcs some claimed were missing.

    Making Tigress the Dragon Warrior due to her hard work would have been closer to reality: it also would’ve been godawful dull storytelling. Making Po a Marxist revolutionary would’ve been slightly better, but would resonate the least out of any of the three with the US public.

  • Kailyn

    Pfff, that’s what REALLY GETS ME MAD, AS A 12 YEAR OLD! The stupid people who worked for the movie has to be sooo friggin negative about the work, and say negative things. GOD IT WAS A GOOD MOVIE! YOU GOT YOUR MONEY, THAT’S ALL YOU WANTED, SO SCREW YOU!

  • With animation being such a very visual medium it makes sense that the way of starting pre-production is is to layout the story-line visually first before polishing up some snappy dialogue. Not the best policy disrespecting one of the most powerful people in a glamorous industry that people clamor to get into.