Kung Fu Panda 4: Fans Have a Serious Problem With New Character's Design
Looks like Kung Fu Panda is almost making a sequel to some other animated hit.
- After years of wait, Kung Fu Panda is returning with a fourth installment
- A lot has changed, especially for Po: he will now take the role of a mentor for a completely new character, Zhen
- Fans are having second thoughts about Zhen's design; instead of Kung Fu Panda's signature character look, Zhen looks like a Zootopia resident or a Sing character
Are we longtime Kung Fu Panda fans even ready for the skadoosh the fourth installment is about to bring? Our beloved gluttonous Dragon Warrior is set to be back on our screens on March 8, 2024, and after the first trailer, the fandom is buzzing with excitement and speculations.
But it's not only about that; after all, the fandoms are notorious about being painfully picky and meticulous about the universes they love. And Kung Fu Panda is no exception.
The Valley of Peace and the world around it is beloved for the way its inhabitants are uniquely designed, among other things. Every single character looks outstanding, as their features masterfully incorporate not just the most important aspects of the characters, but also deliver a great homage to Chinese culture.
Remember Tigress (where was she and her four Furious counterparts in the first trailer, by the way...)? The Kung Fu Panda creators specifically mentioned how they avoided making her humanly feminine, instead using her stripes to resemble make-up. And Lord Shen (arguably the best Kung Fu Panda villain ever) was a perfect mix of a threatening personality and subtle and elegant look.
Well, what happened with Kung Fu Panda 4's character design, then?
What Is Wrong With Kung Fu Panda's New Character?
In Kung Fu Panda 4, we meet Zhen — a corsac fox who is a thief... and a future Dragon Warrior herself, it appears. Po is getting ready to mentor her as his potential successor, so it's only fair to assume that Zhen will be pretty important to the series. After all, she enjoys the spotlight in the first trailer, while the Furious Five — Po's faithful friends and the fandom's favorites — are notably absent.
One would expect her to be very unique and outstanding when it comes to character design... right?
Well, according to fans, the first look at Zhen was a bit anticlimactic — instead of a prominent character with presence and signature looks, we got a Zootopia character infiltrating the world of Kung Fu Panda.
"Her character design is completely off. Her type of designs can fit into a franchises like Madagascar universe or [...] something from Zootopia or Sing!" Redditor Niloufer_D said.
Many fans noted Zhen looks a lot like the daughter wolf from Sing 2. While there's necessarily nothing wrong with Zootopia, Sing, or any other "animal" animated franchises, the Kung Fu Panda world is just different; the Madagascar-ish character design just doesn't work here.
A lot of devoted Kung Fu Panda fans have already come up with a possible explanation, though. The low-effort character design for Zhen may be linked to the absence of a very certain someone in the fourth Kung Fu Panda movie.
Kung Fu Panda 4 Team Has Lost an Essential Member
In the previous three movies, the character design was the responsibility of Nicolas Marlet — a DreamWorks' animator whose works you know and love in How to Train Your Dragon and Bee Movie. Funnily enough, he also worked for Madagascar.
However, in Kung Fu Panda 4, Marlet's name is absent in the lists of those involved in the making. Many fans believe this has to be the main cause of Zhen's design being off.
Still, the lack of Marlet's creative vision didn't seem to affect the design of Chameleon — the fourth movie's villain, a powerful sorceress capable of taking the form of all the previously feared antagonists.
She, however, is somewhat similar to Lord Shen when it comes to the vibe, as she also doesn't look very threatening and fearsome when it comes to her appearance. But her ability to bring back the opponents Po had trouble with before will clearly help her instill fear in the fourth installment.
Besides, with Kung Fu Panda 4 being more than a year away, it’s quite possible that DreamWorks will listen to the fan criticism and maybe change something about Zhen’s looks.