The idea for the film was conceived by Michael Lachance, a DreamWorks Animation executive. The film was originally intended to be a parody, but director Stevenson decided instead to shoot an action comedy Wuxia film that incorporates the hero's journey narrative archetype for the lead character. The computer animation in the film was more complex than anything DreamWorks had done before. As with most DreamWorks animated films, Hans Zimmer (collaborating with John Powell this time) scored Kung Fu Panda. He visited China to absorb the culture and get to know the China National Symphony Orchestra as part of his preparation. A sequel, Kung Fu Panda 2, was released on May 26, 2011, along with a television series, Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness later that same year as a part of a franchise.
Kung Fu Panda premiered in the United States on June 6, 2008, and has since received very favorable reviews from critics and most of the movie-going public. The film currently garners an 88% "Certified Fresh" approval rating from review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Kung Fu Panda opened in 4,114 theaters, grossing $20.3 million on its opening day and $60.2 million on its opening weekend, resulting in the number one position at the box office. The film became DreamWorks' biggest opening for a non-sequel film, the highest grossing animated film of the year worldwide, and also had the fourth-largest opening weekend for a DreamWorks animated film at the American and Canadian box office, behind Shrek 2, Shrek the Third, and Shrek Forever After.
The story is set in the Valley of Peace, a fictional land in ancient China inhabited by anthropomorphic animals. Po, a panda, is a kung fu fanatic who idolizes the Furious Five—Tigress, Monkey, Mantis, Viper, and Crane—a quintet of kung fu masters trained by the red panda Shifu. Helping his goose father Mr. Ping in his noodle restaurant, Po has been unable to achieve his dream of becoming a kung fu master himself.
Oogway, an old tortoise and Shifu's mentor, has a vision that Shifu's former student, the evil snow leopard Tai Lung, will escape from prison and return to the Valley of Peace to take revenge for being denied the Dragon Scroll, which is said to hold the secret to limitless power. Shifu is alarmed and sends his messenger, the goose Zeng, to prevent Tai Lung's escape. He then holds a kung fu tournament for the Furious Five so that Oogway may identify the Dragon Warrior, the one kung fu master worthy of receiving the Dragon Scroll and capable of defeating Tai Lung. Forced to take a cumbersome noodle cart to the tournament, Po arrives as the arena doors close and is unable to enter. Desperate to see the Dragon Warrior chosen, Po straps himself to a set of fireworks, rockets into the sky, and crashes into the middle of the arena in front of Oogway's pointing finger. To everyone's surprise, Oogway proclaims Po as the Dragon Warrior.