Awkwafina & Ronny Chieng on Playing a Fox and Fish in Kung Fu Panda 4 (Interview)

John Nguyen

Skadoosh!!!!!! Po is back with a new adventure with Kung Fu Panda 4, the highly anticipated animated film from DreamWorks Animation and Universal Pictures. Joining Jack Black as Po is Awkwafina as the corsac fox Zhen and Ronny Chieng as Captain Fish.

Kung Fu Panda 4 marks the second time Awkwafina has worked with Jack Black. In the film, Zhen is a wanted thief who helps Po on his journey to stop The Chameleon, voiced by Viola Davis.

“This is the second time I’ve played a pickpocket,” Awkwafina tells Nerd Reactor. “So maybe calling upon that a little bit but I think she really speaks for herself. It was a really interesting character. I was really excited to read what happened to them. I think she speaks for herself. And I would say in terms of an animated performance, probably the most serious – closest to really who I am. And I think that was cool to play.”

Ronnie Chieng is a fan of 2D animation, and he asked Directors Mike Mitchell and Stephanie Ma Stine about getting a cel animation artwork of Captain Fish.

“I asked them for a cel sheet because I guess that’s how old I am,” Chieng said. “And then Mike and Steph told me, ‘Oh, we don’t have one.’ But they made one for me. It was beautiful.”

Chieng talked about the many ways he prepared for his role as a fish.

“Watching a lot of fish,” Chieng teased. “I ate a lot of fish. Watch fish eat other fish. I saw this fish eat a bird. You can look that up on YouTube. This fish will eat birds. Google it or don’t if you don’t want to be disgusted.”

Kung Fu Panda has been a big property for DreamWorks Animation, and the actor was excited to join the fourth film.

“I mean, yeah, it’s an important franchise that I was very honored to be part of,” Chieng said. “So I definitely want to do a good job. Mike and Steph are super easy to work with. The script was very tight, very well written. I pitched them some jokes. They let me try it out. I definitely approached it with the same amount of care that they approached it when they made a large animation.”

With three Kung Fu Panda films under DreamWorks Animation’s belt, it seems like Po still wants one last great adventure.

“And that was our thing, where before Stephanie and I started this one, we wanted to make sure that it was a story that had to be told,” Director Mike Mitchell said. “We wanted to further Kung Fu Panda’s journey. We wanted to give him more lessons to learn. And we found that we could do that if he could leave the Valley of Peace. That’s a very special place for Po, the Valley of Peace. And to have him leave and go to a whole new place and meet all new characters and maybe have to assemble a new team because his buddies are busy – because the Furious Five are on four corners of China doing all sorts of stuff. So we just thought that would be the most interesting story.”

The relationship between Po and Zhen is inspired by the relationship between Master Shifu and Po. Po will understand what it’s like to have someone learn under his wings to become a warrior.

“One of my favorite relationship dynamics was in Kung Fu Panda One between Po and Master Shifu,” Ma Stine revealed. “You know, Po was always irritating Shifu. Not that he wanted to, that was just the personalities. Well, when we decided Po’s story – he had to take the next step on his journey of being a hero. He had to step away from the Dragon Warrior title. He had to become the next spiritual leader of the Valley of Peace, replacing Master Oogway. We were like, ‘We need to team him up with someone who annoys him just as much as he annoyed Master Shifu.'”

About Kung Fu Panda 4

Synopsis: After three death-defying adventures defeating world-class villains with his unmatched courage and mad martial arts skills, Po, the Dragon Warrior (Jack Black), is called upon by destiny to … give it a rest already. More specifically, he’s tapped to become the Spiritual Leader of the Valley of Peace.

That poses a couple of obvious problems. First, Po knows as much about spiritual leadership as he does about the paleo diet, and second, he needs to quickly find and train a new Dragon Warrior before he can assume his new lofty position.

Even worse, there’s been a recent sighting of a wicked, powerful sorceress, Chameleon (Viola Davis), a tiny lizard who can shapeshift into any creature, large or small. And Chameleon has her greedy, beady little eyes on Po’s Staff of Wisdom, which would give her the power to re-summon all the master villains whom Po has vanquished to the spirit realm.

So, Po’s going to need some help. He finds it (kinda?) in the form of crafty, quick-witted thief Zhen (Awkwafina), a corsac fox who really gets under Po’s fur but whose skills will prove invaluable. In their quest to protect the Valley of Peace from Chameleon’s reptilian claws, this comedic odd-couple duo will have to work together. In the process, Po will discover that heroes can be found in the most unexpected places.

Reprising their roles are Dustin Hoffman as Kung Fu master, Shifu; James Hong (Everything Everywhere All at Once) as Po’s adoptive father, Mr. Ping; Bryan Cranston as Po’s birth father, Li, and Ian McShane as Tai Lung, Shifu’s former student and arch-nemesis. Ke Huy Quan (Everything Everywhere All at Once) joins the cast as a new character, Han, the leader of the Den of Thieves.

The film is directed by Mike Mitchell (DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls, Shrek Forever After) and produced by Rebecca Huntley (DreamWorks Animation’s The Bad Guys). The film’s co-director is Stephanie Ma Stine (She-Ra and the Princesses of Power).

Kung Fu Panda 4 will be released in theaters on March 8, 2024.