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cannes 2011

How the Kung Fu Panda 2 Cast Fended Off Insane Press Questions at Cannes

Press conferences are a strange beast of journalism in any case, but try going to one about a cartoon Chinese bear featuring hilariously random, impertinent questions from reporters from seemingly every continent on the planet, except for maybe Antarctica. Then throw in the incongruous pairing of Angelina Jolie with Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman, and you might get close to the bizarre experience that was the Kung Fu Panda 2 press conference at Cannes this morning.

The questions centered mostly on Jolie’s children, Jolie's motherhood, Jolie playing tough women, Jolie playing a tigress, Jolie’s great popularity in China, what Jolie thinks about bin Laden (“I’m here in the context of Kung Fu Panda; I’d rather not get into such a heavy issue”), and when Jolie was going to come visit China. No one asked when Jolie was going to adopt a Chinese baby, but we got there five minutes late.

The last time the Kung Fu Panda gang was at Cannes, Black accidentally spilled the beans about Jolie’s pregnancy, and then Hoffman spilled the beans about her due date, overtaking the news cycle. This time around, Black let Jolie answer the questions about herself, but they all seemed amused by the single-mindedness of the room’s hive mind. Not prompted by any question, Hoffman leaned into the mike and said, “I do feel if we had a male director, I would have had a bigger part.” Later: “Since I finally got asked a question … ” One reporter asked the group, “Where do you find inner peace?” Hoffman replied, "I’ve never been so at peace as I am at this moment, being this famous, in front of all these cameras, and sitting next to Angelina.” When another reporter asked the group about their favorite cartoons growing up, Hoffman said, “Being perhaps the oldest person in the room — if anyone is older, please stand now — I remember the first film I ever saw was Bambi.” No one stood. He also cited a rendition of Pinocchio in which the puppet lays too close to the fire and has his legs burnt off. “What version did you see?!” asked a horrified Jolie, laughing.

As he left the conference, we cornered Hoffman to get his feelings on the festival. “It’s plastic paradise,” he said. “When there’s no festival, it’s paradise. When there’s a festival, it’s plastic paradise,” he said and ran off.

The most bizarre exchange of a very strange press conference that also involved Black singing Bobby McFerrin’s version of “Blackbird” came when one Italian journalist asked the group if they thought pandas really have existential problems. “Undoubtedly!” said Hoffman. “No,” said Black, then he reconsidered. “I have met a panda. I held it. Well, I didn’t hold it, but I touched it briefly. I was told they actually have dangerous claws. Maybe they do.” An Irish reporter, thinking Black was done, began her questions. But Black was not done. “Those weak moments, while gnawing on a bamboo shoot, do they think, What is life all about? What is the point? In this meaningless universe that goes on forever?” The Irish reporter tried again. Black was still not done. “Maybe all life-forms have fleeting moments of existentiality. You can figure that out.”

The Irish reporter launched in, wanting to know how it feels, after all their passion films, their Oscars, their accolades, to be doing a press conference for what may end up being their best-known roles: a panda, a tiger, and “we don’t know, maybe a rat,” referring to an earlier joke about how no one on the film is sure what animal Hoffman plays. (It’s a red panda.) Hoffman burst out laughing at the harsh bluntness of the question. “Well,” he said. “I think it’s a fitting end to a long, distinguished career. If, you know, if I was never aware of irony before, I am now.” "How do you feel, Jack?" the moderator asked. Black paused, then replied, “After all the Oscars?”

Photo: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images