leo birenberg, kung fu panda, paws of destiny, amazon prime

EXCLUSIVE: Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny’s Leo Birenberg Talks Creating the Score

With the holidays quickly approaching, many of us will be going on winter breaks where we can stay at home binge-watching our favorite shows. Amazon Prime just debuted their latest series, Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny, which we recommend checking out. If you’ve seen the movies, you’ll love the series, especially since it takes place after the events of the third film. So if you’ve ever wondered what happened to Po and friends, now is your chance to know. Even if you haven’t seen the films, the characters and storyline of the new series will be sure to draw you in.

One of the elements that make this series so special is the music. As movie watchers, we may pay attention to the visual scenes, but not realize that the audio is just as important since it sets the tone for each scene. With music, we are able to feel every emotion the characters are feeling, whether that be sadness, happiness, fear, or excitement.

One of the people behind the incredible score for Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny is Leo Birenberg, who is one of television and film’s youngest and most sought-after composers. His music has been featured in many film soundtracks, such as Disney’s Frozen, Marvel’s Ant-Man, Comedy Central’s Big Time in Hollywood, FL and Fox’s Son of Zorn. He also composed the score for Cobra Kai, based on one of the most iconic films ever, The Karate Kid.

We had the chance to speak with Leo Birenberg about ‘Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny’ and the process of creating a score. Read our interview with him below.

Hi Leo Birenberg! Thank you for speaking with CelebMix. How are you?

I’m great! Enjoying my early winter weather in Southern California.

Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny just premiered on Amazon Prime. Could you tell us about the show?

Sure! The show is a continuation of the Kung Fu Panda story, taking place after the events of the third movie.

How was it composing the score for the show? Where did you get your influences from?

This is some of the most fun I’ve ever had writing music. The score takes influences from Spaghetti western movies, B kung fu flicks, and even hip hop. But of course, being Kung Fu Panda, there is a lot of cinematic orchestra and traditional Chinese instruments as well, with big themes for all the characters. Blending all of those influences into a new palette was a blast– I’ve been calling it a “Lo Mein” Western.

Since the show is set in China, what steps did you take to learn about the culture and its music?

I love world music, so always try to take advantage of any opportunity to learn about a new culture. With Chinese music, I had a bit of a head start, just from my own listening over the years. I’m a woodwind player originally, and Chinese music has a lot of instruments for me to explore: dizi flutes, xiao, hulusi, bawu, etc. I got my hands on all of them to experiment with in my studio. Then, of course, there are the string instruments– erhu, guzheng, pipa, and ruan– which most audiences will identify as Chinese. But because this score, draws influences from so many genres, the entire project was an exercise in using traditional Chinese instruments in music styles totally the opposite of Chinese traditional music: using the ruan like a funk rhythm guitar, for example. It was so fun and I think resulted in some great tracks.

You’ve also helped in creating the score for Cobra Kai, another action-packed series. How did you go about approaching martial arts scenes this time around?

Well, the big difference between the two is that this show is animated. When you have a completely artificial world, you lean into the music even harder to help build the universe. And animated kung fu isn’t limited by pesky things like gravity and physics, so there are a lot of larger-than-life gestures to emphasize. The animation in this series is truly incredible, so that provided tons of inspiration. Cobra Kai is much more grounded in actual human abilities, so the music is more focused on helping with the dramatic storytelling.

What would you say was the most challenging part of creating the score for Kung Fu Panda? Did you look at the score for the Kung Fu Panda movies for inspiration?

I felt a lot of pressure when I was first getting started because I needed themes that could live up to the music from the films and continue the story. Especially for Po, as the main character carried over from the films, so one of the first things I did was work on a very strong and identifiable theme for him. But once I started writing the sound of this show just flowed naturally and I think fits very well into the Kung Fu Panda canon.

What would you say is the tone of music? How do you feel the music adds to the scenes in the series?

Despite being an animated story, the music tends to be pretty serious. There are a lot of stakes for the characters at every twist and turn of the story. This series also expands the world of Kung Fu Panda immensely, so I saw myself as helping with the world-building aspect of the universe.

You’ve composed for different genres and audiences. How do you get into the mindset for each?

It actually helps me a lot to be working in so many genres. I’m the type of person that gets bored easily, so constantly having to approach new musical styles and challenges with each project keep my brain fresh and the good ideas flowing. When I’m starting a new project, I spend a lot of initial brainstorming time outside of the studio– walking the dog, hiking, at the gym– which helps me work out my ideas.

The audience for this project would be families and children. We heard that when you were a kid, you used to make movies and music. How does it feel now that everything has come full circle?

I did! I wanted to be a director when I was little. I used to make some pretty ambitious adventure movies in iMovie with my friends. But once I fell in love with music, that felt like a better brush to do my storytelling with. It feels incredible to be able to contribute to such a big franchise like Kung Fu Panda and really have the opportunity to expand the universe with my own ideas. I’m incredibly fortunate to have such amazing opportunities and collaborators.

Lastly, what would you like to tell our CelebMix readers about the project?

The storytelling is awesome and the animation is stunning. It’s not just a show for kids or families– I think anyone who likes adventure stories with a deep mythology and legendarium will LOVE Paws of Destiny. Tune in on Amazon Prime Video!

Watch ‘Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny’ now on Amazon Prime! Tweet us your thoughts about the show at @CelebMix.

Written by Michele Mendez

Michele Mendez is an editor at CelebMix.com, where she covers all things pop culture, including entertainment, music, television, and film. In her free time, you can find her analyzing BTS' music videos or watching yet another series on Netflix. #ARMY Have a story idea? Contact: michele@celebmix.com / michelemendez182@gmail.com TWITTER, INSTAGRAM, & FACEBOOK: @michmendezmedia