Pandas may be the most lovable mammals on the planet (sorry humans), so witnessing one get into a fight with the prospect of losing could be emotionally taxing. The "Kung Fu Panda" movie series has navigated this balance of presenting the obvious humor of a panda throwing a punch with the all-out snapping of heart strings that would occur if a panda character died.
From personal experience, I once misplaced a stuffed panda bear I got from the Smithsonian's National Zoo. Even that loss was essentially unbearable.
With PG ratings, well over a billion dollars in box-office revenue and consistent critical praise that has led to all three installments receiving "Fresh" distinctions on Rotten Tomatoes, the "Kung Fu Panda" movies have clearly mastered a balance. But in a desire to experiment with the series' emotional boundaries, the creators behind "Kung Fu Panda 3" recorded a version of the movie that would have been way scarier than what became the final product.
"Kung Fu Panda 3" debuted earlier this year in January and featured a new main villain character, Kai, voiced by Oscar-winning actor J.K. Simmons. Kai is a huge, menacing yak that returns from the Spirit Realm to conquer the world. The Jack Black-voiced lead character in the movie series, Po, has to figure out a way to stop this villain's rise.
In an interview to promote the movie, Simmons told The Huffington Post that terrifying audio takes for Kai were left on the cutting room floor. "We tried some that were the scariest we thought we could possibly want to be," said Simmons. The actor further explained that he wanted to give an "extreme" performance so directors Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh Nelson could compare it to the more traditional, tamer attempts.
Given Simmons' role as the aggressive and abusive Terence Fletcher in the 2014 movie "Whiplash," it's easy to imagine that these thrown-out takes alone could have raised the MPAA rating for "Kung Fu Panda 3."
Simmons joked on the phone, "They kept cutting out the swearing, I don't know why," and laughed in agreement that an R-rated version of the movie was forthcoming.
Still, the villain-voicing actor said that the intensity never quite reached "Whiplash" levels. "I knew going in we weren't going to be that extreme because it's a different universe and certainly a different audience," said Simmons, who claimed his family's love of the series convinced him to take the part. "So, if 'Whiplash' was a 10, we probably never got past a 7.5."
Carloni and Nelson did not end up using the extra scary version of Kai, instead opting to balance the character's fear factor with humor. "At the end of the day, as an actor, it's out of your hands," said Simmons. "You just present options and have faith."
"Kung Fu Panda 3" is out now on Blu-ray & DVD.