Directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson don't want people to think of one-hit wonder Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting" when the title of their film, "Kung Fu Panda," comes up.
"There's a lot of honor and discipline (in kung fu), and it's not all about beating people up," says Osborne.
"The spiritual side of martial arts and kung fu comes out, too," says Stevenson.
Their main goal for "Kung Fu Panda" was to make it funny. After all, Jack Black voices the title character. But they thought they could do more.
"We didn't want to just make a parody and didn't want to make just a silly movie, although we knew we had to make something that was funny and engaging and for a broad audience," Osborne says. "But we saw it as a great opportunity. We wanted to make as real a kung fu movie as we could while also making a funny movie."
Speaking by phone from Minneapolis, the first-time collaborators say that the themes in "Kung Fu Panda" have been around a while.
"They've been making martial-arts movies in Asia as long as they've had films over there, and all those basic principles of chivalry and honor and redemption and self-sacrifice and heroism are at the heart of the wushu movie and wushu stories," says Stevenson. "They just endure."
Black's character, Po, is a tubby panda who loves tales about martial-arts heroes and dreams of being one himself. Martial-arts superstar Jackie Chan voices the character of Monkey, one of the elite martial artists Po admires.
"One of the reasons that Jackie Chan was really excited about being involved in the project was he wanted to help us bring the genre to a much wider audience and to a younger audience," says Osborne. "We want to make sure that a new generation knows that there's this whole great world of movies out there that may not be the first thing they see when they walk into the video store, but there are definitely many, many great films for them to explore if they like this one."
While the film celebrates kung fu, it wouldn't have been made if not for Black.
"I'm a huge fan of Tenacious D, Jack's band," says Osborne. "They're the biggest, like, nerds for rock. I just thought there was a close comparison to be made about Po and his love of kung fu."
The filmmakers went to Black, and fortunately he was interested in doing the movie.
"He was our first and only choice, honestly," says Stevenson. "The whole film was basically designed to be a star vehicle for Jack 'cause we love Jack so much. We didn't have a Plan B if he was to say he didn't want to be in the movie."
Osborne and Stevenson had limited personal experience with kung fu before making the film, but they and most of their crew took a five-hour intensive class in the early stages of production.
"We asked the teacher to go as hard-core on us as he could so that we would all know what it felt like to be Po," says Osborne.
"It feels miserable," says Stevenson. "That stuff is unbelievably hard. ... We were sore for weeks after that."