If there’s one thing I truly love about the holidays, it’s the animated holiday specials. I can sit and watch Chuck Jones’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas or Matt Groening’s Olive The Other Reindeer over and over again. While it isn’t exactly holiday-appropriate, I wish Cartoon Network would do an all-day Iron Giant marathon one more time.
As I just said, I love this stuff.
And it looks like a new title is entering the list, Dreamwork’s Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special. Airing on Wednesday, November 24 at 8:30 pm eastern, the movie continues the adventures of Po the Panda, aka the Dragon Warrior. Better still, this half-hour special returns with original voice cast intact, from Jack Black as Po on to Dustin Hoffman as Sifu and the entire Furious 5 (Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross and Angelina Jolie).
The special also introduces a new character into the Panda universe, the rabbit chef Wo Hop, voiced by Jack McBrayer. He’s probably best known for his work on 30 Rock, but is also starting to build a rep as an animation voice artist.
“It’s very recent. I had a small part in Despicable Me and I play a regular character on Phineas & Ferb,” McBrayer said in a telephone conference last week. “I play Irving who is one of their little friends. I probably get more street cred for working in animation than I do for my years on 30 Rock.”
Like most modern young Americans, McBrayer grew up with his own favorite Holiday specials, particularly the Rankin-Bass version of Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer.
“I’m hoping my show has some of the same shelf life as that,” says McBrayer. “Wo Hop’s new to the series. He’s trying to become accepted as the head chef for this big holiday. He’s very eager to please and get’s accidentally disgraced. So he’s dead set on getting back his honor for himself and his village. He meets with different levels of success.”
As for working with the production crew, McBrayer found it to be an experience in and of itself.
“It was definitely collaborative,” he acknowledged. “The good news is they knew what I was bringing in before we started. So they knew I wasn’t going to do, say, a British accent or a mature voice. Also, I got to do so many takes; I got the opportunity to try it again and see if that worked.
“Traditionally with voice over work, you go into a studio, meet with the creative people and director/producer, and go over such things as what the character looks like and what their attitude is. They will give you something to look at, but not in this case.
So I really was flying by the seat of my pants. It’s super fun, but also intimidating. I didn’t know if I was doing good or stinking up the joint. So I was in the isolation booth by myself, in front of a microphone and the script. Luckily, I was able to come back after they had put some art to the recording, and was able to make changes then. So the whole experience was wonderful and liberating, but also pretty terrifying at the same time.”
As for McBrayer’s future in the animation world, he’s adding another notch in his belt real soon as he’s just finished working on an episode of The Simpsons.
“That was pretty fantastic,” he said. “There were all the actors from the show! I mean I was only doing this one tiny scene and they made me feel like I was family. There was Dan Castalenetta, Julie Kavner, Yardley Smith, Nancy Cartwright. It was crazy!”
In the meantime, McBrayer admitted he saw the final cut of the Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special. He’s very pleased with it, in spite of all he went through.
“I just saw it and have to say it was hilarious,” he said. “It’s also a very beautiful thing to look at. I also have kids and am excited to see what they think of it.”
Nine out of ten McBrayer and his family will see the Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special a number of times as it will become another holiday perennial fans will demand seeing it again and again.