Monday, June 29, 2015

What's The Future of 'Kung Fu Panda'?

With Kung Fu Panda 3 coming in January, I was wondering something...

In winter 2010, months prior to the release of Kung Fu Panda 2, Jeffrey Katzenberg announced that DreamWorks intended to make the story of Po a rather epic saga. And by epic, I mean... The plan was to make four more sequels after Kung Fu Panda 2 opened!

Kung Fu Panda 2 opened in May 2011, and it kind of underperformed at the domestic box office, making significantly less than what its predecessor reeled in three years earlier without the aid of 3D or higher ticket prices. It still performed well overseas, as it did collect a fine $665 million in the end against its $150 million budget. Perhaps that might've put the brakes on a six-film series, because you heard very little about installments beyond a third one. Maybe DreamWorks was thinking that the sequel would pull a Shrek 2, rather than a Madagascar 2.

So... Is Kung Fu Panda 3 the final chapter? So far, from the marketing, it doesn't seem like it will definitely be the end... But at the same time, it could very well be the end. The story has Po reuniting with his father, finding the village where his kind ended up after Lord Shen's genocide, and he'll be facing a supernatural threat that's defeated other kung fu masters. These details sound like "epic finale" ingredients!

Of course, in movieland, smart businesspeople do not walk away from making a sequel to something that cracks $500 million and makes over 3x its big budget. Kung Fu Panda 2 made 4.4x its budget, so I'm surprised that DreamWorks hasn't really hinted at a fourth one between 2010 and now. Does this mean that they decided a long time ago (somewhere between December 2010 and May 2011) to make Kung Fu Panda a strong trilogy and keep it at that?

That could be likely, because they are thinking of doing the same with How To Train Your Dragon. Or at least its creative team is thinking about doing that...

Dean DeBlois, who directed the first two Dragon films (the first of which he directed with his Lilo & Stitch comrade Chris Sanders), said in interviews that How To Train Your Dragon 3 will definitely be the end of the main story, though spin-offs are possible.

"I think I’ve talked [Jeffrey Katzenberg] down from that (laughs). There may be spinoffs to come, but my involvement and my dedication to completing a story that has a reason for being and a strong sense of integrity and three chapters I think is in place and intact. Everybody seems to be in agreement that we’re moving in the right direction."

Of course, he said this back in fall 2014. This was right before Penguins of Madagascar, the company's second theatrical spin-off film, lost money at the box office thanks to a poor domestic performance and particularly high expectations...

I'd be super-surprised if DreamWorks walked away from Berk after the last one (Dragon 2 made $618 million worldwide, 4.2x its budget), even more so if they don't make spin-off films. Artistic integrity is something I admire, but DreamWorks is a company that needs franchises for the time being until someone buys them (whenever that will be, maybe sooner considering the success of Home and the fact that Kung Fu Panda 3 will score), so even though Dean wants to call it quits, the company calls the shots. He thinks it being a trilogy is in place, but that doesn't mean that it is so.

I think we'll end up seeing at least one spin-off, though considering how DreamWorks' last spin-off performed domestically, it is arguably something of a gamble now. I wouldn't rule out a fourth How To Train Your Dragon, or at least a fourth one that's about a brand new set of characters. Especially in a world where Toy Story 4 exists. It depends on what route the third one goes for its finale. DeBlois had this to say back in February...

“[Dragon 3 is] the culmination of Hiccup’s coming of age. Both he and Toothless are now chiefs of their respective tribes, and it’s a dueling story where you have both characters trying to do what’s right for their kind, and an eventual outcome where Hiccup is able to stand on his own. We’re gonna take the story to where the books begin, which is Hiccup as an adult reflecting back on a time where there were dragons, suggesting that the dragons will in some way go away. Why and could they come back and the mystery of what all that is will be saved for the actual story.”

Who knows, who knows. If Dragon 3 has an outcome where dragons will go away for good (I'm not putting that past DreamWorks), then a fourth one would negate that story. But who knows what they'll do...

Back to pandas...

I love this film series' setting and style, so I would be game for a second trilogy, but if the creative team behind the three films wants to put the lid on it after movie #3, I'm okay with that too. Do they plan to do that, though, is the bigger question. Are spin-offs possible?

Right now, DreamWorks is going down a road to recovery after a couple years of ups and steep, steep downs. For the time being, they'll really need sequels to keep them afloat. Kung Fu Panda 3, The Croods 2, and How To Train Your Dragon 3 - the sequels that are currently on their slate that right now ends at summer 2018 - are guaranteed hits. Who knows with big budget non-sequels Trolls, Boss Baby, and Larrikins.

We don't know where DreamWorks will be by the end of 2018, but if they aren't at a safer state by then (as in no one buying them, and them still spending too much on their films - $120 million is still way too much in my opinion), they'll still absolutely need sequels. So what comes from 2019 to 2021? Croods 3? Madagascar 4? Shrek 5? Home 2? They'd probably be all set with those, so maybe there is no need for new Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon films by that point. Perfect for them if the creative teams behind them want them to end.

What do you think they'll do with Kung Fu Panda? Will they leave it as a strong trilogy? Or will the story continue? Do you think How To Train Your Dragon will definitely come to a close with its third installment? Sound off below!


  1. Speaking of DreamWorks, I have a question.
    Remember when Jeffery Katzenberg said that he wasn't going to do "dark" animated movies for older audiences anymore and would be focusing on comedies for young children? I actually wonder where he got that idea. The reason is because out of the four DreamWorks movies that lost money in the past few years, three of them (Turbo, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, and The Penguins of Madagascar) were . . . comedies for young children. Even Home, successful as it was, made only $367 million--less than Penguins!
    Meanwhile the Kung Fu Panda and How to Train your Dragon franchises are actually the MOST successful current film series Dreamworks has. How on earth is Katzenberg to noticing this?

    1. Maybe perhaps it's a response to how the darker 'How To Train Your Dragon 2' performed in comparison to the first one domestically? Or maybe it's all directed at 'Rise of the Guardians', which started this whole issue? Maybe Katzenberg assumes more Madagascar, Croods, or Shrek-ian comedies are guaranteed moneymakers. I have no idea with him and his decision-making.

    2. Maybe Katzenberg assumes more Madagascar, Croods, or Shrek-ian comedies are guaranteed moneymakers

      But as Turbo, Peabody, and Penguins prove, that's just not true. As Walt Disney himself once said, "You're dead if you aim only for kids. Adults are just kids grown up."

    3. Katzenberg just doesn't get it, as he's shown several times before. Am I crazy for thinking he should step down?

      More than anything, I still think that $120m on non-sequel features is still too much for them. Remember a time when DWA's films cost $70-80m? During the CG boom no less?

  2. kung fu panda 4 , I am here waiting ad tipo to come.