Kung Fu Panda 4 Kung Fu Panda 4

The first trailer for Dreamworks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 4 is out today, so we caught up with the film’s directors and producer to find out why now is the right time to return to the Valley of Peace.

Kung Fu Panda 4 is directed by Dreamworks vet Mike Mitchell (Trolls, Shrek Forever After), co-directed by Stephanie Ma Stine (She-Ra and the Princesses of Power), and produced by Rebecca Huntly. It will hit theaters on March 8, 2024.

This is the first theatrical feature for the Kung Fu Panda Franchise since 2016’s Kung Fu Panda 3, although several animated series and specials have been produced since.

Speaking with Cartoon Brew, Mitchell said the wait was necessary:

We wanted to make sure we were telling the best story of all time, and it took a while. I’ve worked on a lot of franchises here, from Shrek to Trolls, and we don’t ever want to move forward unless we know there is going to be a kickass story that will evolve the lead character and where we can find a theme that we really believe in.

An eight-year gap between films also meant the Dreamworks artists had new toys to play with this time around. According to Mitchell:

The good thing about it taking a long time is that meanwhile, the technology was getting better and better so we could do all this badass Gopro stuff. The effects are incredible.

In the film, franchise protagonist Po, also known as the Dragon Warrior, is tasked with taking over as the spiritual leader of the Valley of Peace. As part of the transition, he must find a new fighter to take up the Dragon Warrior mantle. Complicating the situation, a new shapeshifting villain known as Chameleon has started terrorizing the area as she looks to get her hands on Po’s Staff of Wisdom, which would allow her to bring back all the villains Po has previously banished from the valley.

Ma Stine says that Po’s evolution makes sense narratively, and also pays homage to classic Chinese martial arts cinema:

We were very cognizant that the people before us had completed an arc at the end of the third movie, so as a team, we asked ourselves, ‘What can possibly be next for someone who has conquered everything?’ As fans of wuxia films, we thought it would be great if Po had to take on the role of spiritual leader of the Valley of Peace. That was a natural step to take.

Kung Fu Panda 4 sees Jack Black return to voice Po, joined by fellow franchise vets Dustin Hoffman, James Hong, Bryan Cranston, and Ian McShane. Newcomers include Viola Davis, Awkwafina, and Ke Huy Quan.

According to Huntly, Kung Fu Panda 4 was one of the most collaborative productions the studio has ever overseen:

One of the things that really stood out to me when we made this movie was that all the artists were so involved. Mike and Stephanie were open to any ideas the artists had. Everybody looks at things through a different lens, and it was really refreshing and fun to be a part of these conversations about ideas artists would bring to them.

Mitchell agreed, adding that:

More than any other production I’ve worked on, we relied on not just the screenwriter and storyboard artists but animators and effects artists; everyone got really involved. There are thumbprints from every artist in this film.

Jamie Lang

Jamie Lang is the Editor-in-Chief of Cartoon Brew.