You could tell Jack Black was itching to act up. Sitting on the dais with four colleagues to promote their new animated film, “Kung Fu Panda,” at a hotel in Shinjuku, the roly-poly actor looked — as he himself put it — like “the cat that ate the canary”: face frozen in a self-satisfied grin except for eyebrows that elevated in response to something someone said. The expression he used usually describes the face of someone who has already done something naughty. But Black was contemplating doing something naughty, and he saw his chance about five minutes into the press conference.
“Now if you’d like to see some kung fu,” he said, standing up. “I’m just afraid . . . well, where should I do it? I don’t know official kung fu, but I’ll show you my favorite pretend kung fu.” He jumped on the table and mimicked the stance of the title character in the movie poster. True, it didn’t look like real kung fu, but it certainly looked well practiced. “Now I need shiatsu massage,” he said, retaking his seat.
His colleagues were as delighted by this typical Jables display of fanboy exuberance as the press were. Director Mark Osborne pointed out that Black, who voices Po, the panda with the martial-arts movie obsession, was more than just an inspired choice. “It’s the best casting ever in the history of cinema,” he said. “We took a lot of inspiration from Jack to create Po. He’s a guy who succeeds in being like his heroes by being his own hero. I don’t know what we would have done if Jack had said ‘no.’ “
“And it was great to have Lucy Liu as well,” continued Osborne, glancing down the table at the other voice actor who agreed to make the trip. “She’s done so many action films. She gave us cool kung-fu cred.” Considering that Liu’s character is a snake, that’s more of a feat than it sounds, but the actress was clearly pleased with the job, though not necessarily for reasons you’d expect.
“I’ve been working in this business a long time,” she said, “but my parents don’t know what I do. This is the one movie they could embrace because the backdrop is China, which is where they’re from. So it’s nice to finally feel like I’ve accomplished something . . . ” — she suddenly let out a weird, chilling laugh — ” . . . as their daughter.” The reporters learned more about Liu’s family from that laugh than they learned about “Kung Fu Panda” from the whole press conference.
The emcee made sure producer Melissa Cobb and gnomish DreamWorks honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg (“This is my 91st trip to Japan”) got a chance to talk, and, as always, the press managed to do at least part of the guests’ job for them. A reporter from Nihon TV managed to shoehorn a reference to Angelina Jolie’s “happy event” — Jolie does the voice of a tiger — into a question about what pleased them most about the film. Cobb answered, “I don’t think anything you do in a movie compares to giving birth to twins fathered by Brad Pitt.”
Jables was clearly pleased with having coined a nonsense word that he believes has become more widespread than it probably is. “Skadoosh!” he erupted numerous times during the press conference. Maybe he received a royalty every time he uttered the neologism. It was even printed on his T-shirt. “We were encouraged to improvise,” he explained with mock gravity. “I think that’s a hallmark of Jeffrey Katzenberg’s style — great performers flexing their improvisational muscles, like Robin Williams in . . . what was that one with the genie?”
” ‘Aladdin,’ ” Katzenberg said.
” ‘Aladdin,’ right,” continued Black. “And Eddie Murphy, one of the great improvisational performances as the Donkey in ‘Shrek.’ So it was a thrill to work in that style. . . . Oh! Skadoosh! That is my line! I wrote it! Skadoosh!”