Kung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight has just returned for its second season on Netflix globally. The DreamWorks Television series, featuring Jack Black returning as Po, has been a fan-favorite and is among the huge roster of DreamWorks shows exclusively available on Netflix. Ahead of its season 2 release on Netflix, we spoke to executive producer Peter Hastings.
Developed by Mitch Watson and Peter Hastings, this series is based on the movie franchise that’s seen three theatrical releases thus far with a fourth in development plus multiple TV shows.
Peter Hastings is a veteran in the animation space, having worked in the industry for nearly 30 years on hit titles like Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, and the first Kung Fu Panda series, Legends of Awesomeness. For Netflix, he worked on The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants in Space and its two spin-offs.
Warning: Potential spoilers for Kung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight season 2 lay ahead.
What’s on Netflix: It’s quite rare for TV series adaptations of movies to get the original voice cast back. Jack Black sounds better than ever going into season 2 and really brings the series to life. Does having the original actors back help bring the show more to life?
WoN: Peter Hastings: Having original cast members, like Jack Black and James Hong, means less explaining and more exploring. They already know the character so we can play and discover more. I don’t need to figure out how Po should read a line or how Mr. Ping should express emotion, those guys know what to do so we build on it.
I also note that the theme was written by yourself according to the credits? Is this the first time you’ve written something like that for a show?
PH: I have a background in music and have been able to write themes for several shows, including Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness and The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants as well as Kung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight. The original theme I wrote is actually longer and has lyrics, but we decided to keep it classy and short.
WoN: As a veteran in animation, how has animation changed in the years you’ve been producing? Has it gotten easier, or harder, and are you able to tell stories now that you couldn’t say 20-30 years ago?
PH: When I started, we were still hand drawing and hand painting cels and editing on 35mm film. That whole process has changed a lot as everything has become digital.
Streaming has created a lot of freedom because we are not beholden to advertisers. Kung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight is much more mature and dramatic than previous iterations, and we are doing a deep serialized story that can be seen all at once. But fundamentally, as the delivery systems change, one thing never does: the need to simply tell good stories.
WoN: Season 2 concludes with a self-contained big 45-minute special “Epic Lunar New Year” – why did you decide to cap off the season like that and was it freeing to be able to move away from the main story line?
PH: Although the episode fits within our show’s story timeline, we wanted to create a holiday special that celebrates an aspect of Chinese culture that we could share. It was fun to have our regular characters play new roles for the telling of the tale.
WoN: Season 3 is set up by the end of Apok-ta-pokalypse with the gang setting off for England. What can you tease about the future of the show and what we might expect? Will we get to see what happens to Nian the dragon from the Lunar New Year episode again?
PH: We hope the gang will continue their globe-trotting and get to Medieval England, but with some exciting complications along the way. A fun aspect of developing the story is bringing in new characters as well as diving deeper into the lives of the established ones. Sometimes we agree on a story destination, and then figure out how the heck we are getting there. Lots of great surprises come from that process.
Nian the Dragon has decided to fly away for now, preferring only to make appearances around the Lunar New Year!
WoN: Finally, we ask everyone we interview what else you’re watching on Netflix? What’s been your favorite animated title on the service in recent years?
PH: I love Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio probably most of all. But Netflix is able to supply so much animated content that I love being introduced to all sorts of new styles.