Unlikely duo gets kicks in ‘Panda’ films
Angelina Jolie and Jack Black first bonded seven years ago as they rode the 14-foot inflatable fish with Will Smith along the Mediterranean beach at the Cannes Film Festival, a stunt to promote their animated comedy “Shark Tale.”
They had met before but “only said ‘hi’ in passing. That float on the shark was the beginning of a blossoming friendship,” Jolie said.
“They say you learn more about somebody in an hour of play than in a year of conversation, so I think that happened.”
Pals ever since, she and Black reunited as voice co-stars in 2008’s martial-arts adventure “Kung Fu Panda” and now its sequel, opening in theaters today.
Sitting beside each other for an interview at Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel, the actors pondered questions: How do their “Kung Fu Panda” characters resemble their real selves? What advantages would they have against each other in a real-life martial-arts match?
Black got a little dreamy-eyed thinking about how Jolie – who has played a lethal operative in “Salt,” “Wanted” and other action flicks – might take him down in a fight.
“Scissor-squeeze,” he said. “I’m hoping for the scissor-squeeze, personally.”
“And I’m good at the scissor-squeeze,” Jolie told him.
“If I have to go, I would like it to be by the Angelina scissor-squeeze,” Black said.
But seriously, if they ever came to blows?
“I can’t imagine fighting you,” Jolie said, then went on to imagine it: “It would be opposite styles. … I think I have a longer reach.”
“I feel like you probably know 12 ways to kill me,” Black replied. “I don’t really know any ways, but I outweigh you, and they say that is an advantage. My advantage would just be crushing you.
“But you’re very lithe and limber. I don’t know. That would be a battle.”
In “Kung Fu Panda 2,” their characters wind up trading a few blows, though they’re allies against a villain (voiced by Gary Oldman) using gunpowder and cannons to end the sway of kung fu and conquer ancient China.
Black’s tubby panda Po now is accepted as the “Dragon Warrior,” the leader of a kung fu team that includes Jolie’s Tigress and returning characters voiced by Dustin Hoffman, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan and David Cross.
Yet Po remains shaky as a commander, troubled by repressed memories of his early childhood and pressing his father, a goose, to know how a feathered fowl came to raise a furry panda.
Along the way, the fierce, tightly wound Tigress administers some tough love on Po as they struggle to make their odd menagerie of a martial-arts family work.
“They’re like the father and mother,” Jolie said. “They’re like an odd married couple.”
“It’s very much about our relationships with our parents,” added Black. “That’s, of course, always a central part of every kid’s joy and angst at the same time growing up. So it’s a cool, primal thing that we tapped into for this installment of the Po journey.”
They see clear similarities between themselves and their cartoon characters. To Black, both Tigress and Jolie show strength and intelligence on the surface, with a simmering danger underneath.
“There’s an unresolved longing inside of Tigress. I’m not sure what it is. She’s holding a secret, you definitely feel that,” he said.
“I feel that from Angelina, that she’s got a secret and a wonderful, mysterious danger that is very attractive. Definitely part of the charisma, the secret ingredient.
“I think it’s the perfect animated character for Angelina. Tigress! Cool, got a nice sense of style. You definitely want her on your side if you’re going into battle.”
Jolie says that Po shares Black’s unabashed lust for life.
“As Jack says, when he does something, he does it all the way,” she said. “Po has that beautiful sense of adventure and wonder and openness to just say, ‘However you’re going to judge me … I’m going to live my life the way I want to live it. As fully as I can live it. Have a good time, be a good person, and so be it.’”
Jolie figured her kids – three adopted, three biological – with partner Brad Pitt might have questions about the “Kung Fu Panda” franchise’s family themes, which include a revelation in the animated DVD short “Secrets of the Furious Five” that Tigress grew up in an orphanage.
On the drive home after seeing an advance screening of “Kung Fu Panda 2,” though, the children were far more interested in knowing how Tigress came to be captured and chained up in one scene.
“There wasn’t a discussion (about the orphanage) because I think they have had that discussion,” Jolie said. “Adoption and orphanages, they’re not bad words in our house. They’re things we talk about all the time.
“But I do feel that they just felt extra-connected to Po and Tigress because of this, and in the ‘Secrets’ you see her in an orphanage, so they just feel like they’re that little bit like Po and Tigress.”
Black had plans to contact DreamWorks Animation boss Jeffrey Katzenberg to line up a screening for his two young sons.
“One of the perks of doing a DreamWorks animated film, I’m able to call up Katzenberg and say, ‘Hey, dude, can I bring my kids and all of their preschool class of kids to the DreamWorks movie theater, and give them a screening?’” he said.
“And the answer is yes. I’m very popular at the preschool. All the kids love me and my boys for taking them to the sneak-a-peek.”