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Greening Hollywood: Kung Fu Panda Kicks Some Green Grass

September 1, 2009
By Paige Donner
[First Printed on The Huffington Post]

Kung Fu Panda kicked a** at the 36th annual Annie Awards this past weekend.The animated feature starring the voices of Angelina Jolie, Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan and Seth Rogen swept the awards in 10 categories.

The 2008 picture won for Best Animated Feature beating out competition from fellow Oscar contenders Wall-E and Bolt, as well as Waltz With Bashir and $9.99. Dustin Hoffman was presented with the Best Voice Acting award for his role as red panda Shifu.

Interview at The Annie’s with Melissa Cobb, Producer, Kung Fu Panda

Paige Donner: Conservation International chose to collaborate with Kung Fu Panda as their poster child this year. Can you comment?

Melissa Cobb: They’re a great organization. We went to China earlier this year and they really worked with us to visit with and understand what was going on with the Pandas in China right now. And following that, Dreamworks and Jeffrey Katzenberg made a donation of $1 million to Conservation International to really help them in their efforts to support the panda and the panda habitats throughout the world.

Paige Donner and Melissa Cobb, Producer, Kung Fu Panda at Annie Awards ’09

PD: Was that contribution out of the profits of the movie?

MC: It was partially from Dreamworks and partially out of Jeffrey Katzenberg’s own personal foundation. And because the panda has been really good to us and because we really love the panda and having spent the amount of time researching the animal and what the situation is we really felt compelled to try to do something to help.

PD: I know Harrison Ford sits on the board of Conservation International. Was there any sort of liaison there between him and your production team?

MC: I don’t know what the initial contact was. I know we had been looking for the right organization with which to work. One that we felt would serve best the needs of what we were trying to do. They’re a great organization.

PD: How did Kung Fu Panda do in China?

MC: It was the #3 movie of the year in China this year. It was really extraordinary for us. When we went there earlier in the year that was one of the things we were most nervous about because we were adopting a lot of things from a different culture and we wanted to get it right and we didn’t want to offend them. It’s easy to be non-culturally correct. Every person that we met when we went there was so moved by the movie, about how well we had captured the details of the country, the colors of the jade, the shades of things.

We were up at the Shaolin Temple and there were these monks that were guarding these ancient ruins by the Temple. There was this one monk who had seen the movie twice and just loved it. To be halfway across the world in this temple and to have someone say that was really a crazy experience.

Because when you make a movie that makes $630 million worldwide, you know a lot of people see it. But to actually meet them and see their lives, that far away, was really amazing.

PD: Do you have a personal wildlife conservation agenda?

Melissa Cobb: Through this whole experience I’ve become very engaged with what’s going on with the pandas. I’ve learned a lot about their habitat and the situation with the pandas in China, how precious they are. That’s the thing I think about the most.

Wall-E Jim Morris, Producer, Wall-E, Producer Guild of America Producer of the Year, Animated Feature; Lindsey Collins, Producer, Wall-E; Andrew Stanton, Director-Writer, Wall-E

Paige Donner: How important was Wall-E’s eco-theme this year?

Andrew Stanton: I’ve got to say, that’s not why I did the film. I just picked a fictitious story where the world was covered in trash and I used a plant to represent hope for humanity. So I really wasn’t pushing some literal green theme.

But I don’t mind that it’s associated with that. It’s a good thing. But I was really pushing the whole love story and humanity and that humans have to learn to connect to one another or else the world falls apart. That was the main drive of the story.

Wall-E and Friend

PD: Do you think the eco-theme paid off at the box office or do you think it was just that it was a really great story?

Jim Morris: I think it was a great story first but the eco-theme kind of hit a responding chord. It was the right timing for that probably. Which we couldn’t have known when we started the film four years before. Or maybe Andrew psychically knew it, I don’t know.

AS: Any noble values are great to have in a film but the minute I think I’m being preached to, I don’t want to watch the movie. So I want to be respectful as a filmmaker and make sure no one feels like that’s what’s happening to them. It’ more about investing in the characters and if you care about them, then maybe it will rub off.

PD: Did Disney offer any guidance along those lines?

Lindsey Collins: They didn’t. I think they wanted to make sure that the story was what people fell in love with first. They were more than happy to have that follow behind. The message that was created felt timely and it worked but I don’t think they wanted to push it. If it resonated, it resonated and if it didn’t, that was OK too.

PD: Do any of you have kids?

JM, AS, LC: Yes.

JM: All of us.

PD: What did your kids take away with them from this movie?

JM: Well, my kids are a little bit bigger. My younger daughter is 17 and she’s very focused on green stuff but basically at the end of the day they thought Wall-E was really cute and liked the love story.

LC: My kids are at the other end of the spectrum. I have a 41/2, a 21/2 and a six week old. So my 4 1/2 year old, it’s horrible, I actually use it as a threat [laughs] I’ll say, ‘Look what happened to Wall-E. Clean up your room. Let’s be like Wall-E.’ I mean you know it’s at that level. And the 41/2 year old says OK! And picks up his room.

AS: My kids are nearly out of the house so I’m lucky if they even go and see it at all. I’m just happy they saw it.

Andrew Stanton, Writer-Director, Lindsey Collins, Jim Morris, Producers, Wall-E at Annie Awards ’09 Photo by Paige Donner

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