5.27.2011

kung panda 2: the first hollywood animated feature directed by an asian american woman


Kung Fu Panda 2 hits theaters this weekend. In short: animated animals cracking jokes and doing martial arts. The sequel. But what's perhaps most noteworthy about the sequel is that it's directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who becomes the first woman to solely direct an animated feature from a major Hollywood studio: Jennifer Yuh Nelson breaks new ground.
Jennifer Yuh Nelson, the director of the new animated film "Kung Fu Panda 2," might have been destined for a career in pictures. After immigrating to the United States from South Korea with her parents and two sisters when she was 4, Nelson spent her childhood in Lakewood watching martial arts movies, playing with cars and drawing.

As a young girl, she would sit at the kitchen table for hours and watch her mother draw, copying her every stroke. Nelson traces the lineage of her career to those formative family experiences.

"Growing up, my sisters and I would always talk stories," said Nelson, 39, over lunch at the commissary on the DreamWorks Animation campus in Glendale. "One of my frustrations was I didn't know anything about cameras. I didn't know how to make a film and I obviously didn't have a special effects budget. I was a kid. So I was learning to draw to get down the stuff that was in my head, that I couldn't afford to actually do."

Nelson conceived the story for "Kung Fu Panda 2," which follows the continuing adventures of the roly-poly panda Po (Jack Black) as he struggles to come to terms with the sad truth about his family at the same time he and his band of cohorts face off against the evil Lord Shen (Gary Oldman). And now, with the film set to open in theaters Thursday, she will become the first woman to solely direct an animated feature from a major Hollywood studio.
I'll admit, I was pretty skeptical about the first Kung Fu Panda, but it definitely won me over. Nelson served as head of story and was responsible for animating that amazing hand-drawn 2D animated sequence that opens the original movie.

Women directors are still a rarity in Hollywood, representing only 7% of the field, so I'd say finding an Asian American woman at the helm of one this summer's biggest flicks is a pretty big deal.