To some degree, the supernatural has always been a part of the Kung Fu Panda franchise although it’s usually understated and tied (more or less) to the martial arts aspect of the films. This changes with Kung Fu Panda 3, which will introduce the first major supernatural threat for Po and his gang: a bull named Kai, voiced by J.K. Simmons.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, co-director Jennifer Yuh Nelson discussed the villain in greater detail and explained exactly why J.K. Simmons is the perfect voice for this character.
First, she emphasized how much more powerful and menacing he is in comparison to the other Kung Fu Panda villains: “He’s somebody that’s beyond Tai Lung, beyond Shen,” Nelson said. True to the words of Guillermo Del Toro (the film”s producer), Kai will be the most formidable and menacing villain yet. According to Nelson, “He’s a villain that Po is completely ill-equipped to face.”
To further emphasize this point, Nelson and her team did a comparison chart of the previous villains in relation to Po during the earliest stages of the film. “I drew a little chart that had a picture of Tai Lung next to Po, a picture of Shen next to Po, and a picture of this new villain coming in,” Nelson said. It was when they examined the type of villain pitted against Po that they had to make Kai stand out. Thus, Kai was made to have supernatural powers: “You can’t go brawler because Tai Lung was brawler. You can’t go smarter because Shen was smarter. Where can you go? You have to go supernatural, bigger, and even more intimidating.” This will (of course) lead to what Nelson promises to be some incredible action. She also added, “That dynamic of a new villain, new energy, and new abilities that challenge Po is what makes it interesting for us—and makes for some cool fight scenes.”
Nelson also spoke of J.K. Simmons and the dynamics that he brings to the role, hinting at a sophisticated performance that balances menace and humor. Nelson said, “J.K. brings humor to a really intimidating bad guy, so we can go really intimidating with him and not scare the kids out of the theater.”
Having Kai be the first supernatural villain definitely opens the door for the filmmakers to explore a new faucet of the Kung Fu Panda universe. What used to be in the background is now out in the open, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the second trilogy of films start to venture further into the supernatural, perhaps as an opportunity to fully embrace the more fantastical nature of its Wuxia (martial arts) influences.
Kung Fu Panda 3 is directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni from a screenplay by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger. The film features the voice talents of Jack Black (Po), Angelina Jolie (Tigress), Dustin Hoffman (Master Shifu), Lucy Liu (Viper), Seth Rogen (Mantis), Jackie Chan (Monkey), David Cross (Crane), James Hong (Mr. Ping), and Randall Duk Kim as Master Oogway. New to the cast are Rebel Wilson as Mei Mei, Bryan Cranston as Li, and J.K.Simmons as Kai.
Kung Fu Panda 3 lands in theaters on January 29, 2016.
What do you think? Do you have any thoughts on Kung Fu Panda 3‘s new villain?
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes