‘Kung Fu Panda’ partnership with Zoo Atlanta: Smart financial move or tacky?

I read on the AJC front page that Zoo Atlanta’s new panda has been named Po after the character in “Kung Fu Panda” and the new “Kung Fu Panda 2,” which is premiering in May.

DreamWorks, which produces the “Kung Fu Panda” series, has partnered with Zoo Atlanta. Other than naming the new panda Po I’m not sure what else the zoo has to do but in return for DreamWorks giving money to offset the Zoo’s panda conservation efforts. It will also continue giving money to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China.

From the AJC:

“The male cub born at Zoo Atlanta Nov. 3, has been christened Po, after the character voiced by Jack Black in “Kung Fu Panda.”

At the naming ceremony Tuesday outside the zoo’s Giant Panda building, Black unveiled the name from an envelope resembling an Oscar winner, then goofed around onstage with a giant costumed panda for an “interpretive dance.”

Zoo Atlanta has entered into a partnership with DreamWorks Animation for a cross-promotional effort with the cub and the upcoming “Kung Fu Panda 2” movie, due in May.

Dr. Dwight Lawson, deputy director of Zoo Atlanta, wouldn’t cite specifics, but he said DreamWorks is giving money to offset Zoo Atlanta’s panda conservation efforts.

DreamWorks will also continue to provide money for the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China.

Po is the third panda born at Zoo Atlanta and the only giant panda born in the U.S. in 2010. In keeping with Chinese tradition, he was not named until after his 100th day of life.

According to Dr. Haley Murphy, director of veterinary services at Zoo Atlanta, the cub, now 11 pounds, took his first steps a few days ago, indicating his burgeoning independence.

He is expected to go on public display in late March or early April.

“He has to be able to walk well before we’ll put him out, so he’ll determine the timing of that,” Murphy said.

Black, wearing a gray hoodie advertising his movie, visited with Po before the ceremony and was surprised to see his small tuft of red hair.

“He was soft, but not silky smooth,” was Black’s assessment. “He wanted his mommy, but he was sweet enough to spend a little time with me. I wanted to look him in the eye for research purposes. …”

When I read the top part of the story about the zoo naming the baby panda Po, I felt like eww that’s awful. But then I read the next paragraph that said that DreamWorks is giving money to help pay for all the panda conservation programs and I wasn’t as certain how I felt.

Let me say I am a huge fan of Zoo Atlanta. I used to work very closely with the zoo when I ran News for Kids for the AJC. We did “Creature Feature” together each week and when the pandas first arrived we did an excellent contest for the children where the kids sent in their best questions about the pandas. Based on those questions, we picked a group of kids who got to spend private time with the pandas and the Zoo Atlanta scientists. They learned all about the pandas and got to view them without the massive crowds that were normally packed against the glass outside their habitat.

My kids love to go to Zoo Atlanta and in second grade Rose’s class did the overnight field trip there, Night Crawlers, which was excellent!

My kids also like “Kung Fu Panda.” They think it’s very funny and love Jack Black. (His comments about the panda were cute.) And they are excited about “Kung Fu Panda 2.”

So we like both things individually but do we like both things together? (Your peanut-butter is in my chocolate. Your chocolate is in my peanut-butter.)

So what do you think? Super-savvy financial move by Zoo Atlanta or tacky and you’re embarrassed Atlanta’s new precious panda is named for a movie character? (And not just named for a movie character but with quid pro quo.) Will you try to explain the business relationship to your kids or just let them think he’s named Po for no reason other than it’s a perfectly fine name?

Hmmm … still deciding how I feel about this one.

– By Theresa Walsh Giarrusso, ajcMomania

32 comments Add your comment


February 15th, 2011
1:45 pm

Tell your kids that they named the Panda after the movie’s character, and the kids will think that’s awesome and love it even more.

Honestly, who cares?

[...] 'Kung Fu Panda' partnership with Zoo Atlanta: Smart financial move or tacky?Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)It will also continue giving money to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China. ?The male cub born at Zoo Atlanta Nov. …and more » [...]

Tiger Ochocinco Mellencamp

February 15th, 2011
2:00 pm

Jeez….I’m starting to feel like a real schmuck for naming my dog Slash after the G’n'R guy. However will I explain to my son that his beloved dog was given his moniker because dad got sucked in the commercial machine and was too stupid to realize it. ;-)

Obviously that’s tongue in cheek…..I think this is benign and you’re putting a little too much thought into it. Would you have reservations if Walsh wanted to name his goldfish Nemo?

The Zoo is a business. The economy has tightened up. The Zoo needs to find creative ways to raise funds. I imagine the Zoo has an exclusive contract with a soft drink manufacturer and only sells that softdrink on it’s premises. When your kids want a Coke at the Zoo and they only sell Pepsi, do you tell them the business applications of exclusive contracts is why they can’t have a Coke, or do you just say “they’ve only got Pepsi, is that ok?” If that doesn’t create an philosophical problem to you..then why would this?

The Panda isn’t exactly being exploited and forced into Panda Porn or doing something it is philosophically opposed to. It’s smart marketing, and no one is hurt. Seems like a win win to me.


February 15th, 2011
2:08 pm

I’m fine with the name – I’m fine with the partership (actually I wonder what reasons could be formulated that would serve as credible evidence in which to support any argument against the partership, i.e. what are the negatives?)


February 15th, 2011
2:09 pm

Very fortunate for the Zoo.

I hope other municipal departments can find corporate partners as appealing as Dreamworks.


February 15th, 2011
2:14 pm

I’m 100% fine with it! The Pandas are NOT cheap and the zoo is able to offer great programs and low cost family memberships as well as continuing to expand their exhibits and offerings because of things like this. They must have corporate sponsorships and if a chunk of change is given to them for naming the new panda cub “Po” I don’t think it matters at all. Anyway -won’t kids love this even more? Isn’t a huge part of the zoos function to introduce and educate children about the world’s animals? If they love the movie then they’ll love the little panda even more.


February 15th, 2011
2:22 pm

Panda conversation efforts? I hope you mean conservation efforts.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

February 15th, 2011
2:36 pm

RGR — fast typing — thanks for the catch.


February 15th, 2011
3:33 pm

I think it’s fine. The marketing schemes I wonder about are those that entice kids to want certain animals. Remember the piece you did on kids wanting owls after the Harry Potter films came out? How many Dalmations wound up at the pound and in shelters after 101 Dalmations came out in the 90s? This weekend I was in PetSmart and they have a deal that if you bring in your ticket stub from Rango when it comes out, you can get $10 off a lizard or gecko.


February 15th, 2011
3:36 pm

It is both a savvy coup for the zoo and tacky as well.


February 15th, 2011
3:37 pm

Brilliant move by the zoo. Those pandas are costing us a fortune. Sure “Po” isn’t as classy as Mei Lan or Xi Lan, but it was a great way to gain some additional funds, a great way to help panda conservation in general, kids will think it’s awesome and the movie gets some publicity. I think it’s a win-win any way you look at it.

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February 15th, 2011
4:14 pm

What’s the tacky part?


February 15th, 2011
4:40 pm

I cringed when I saw this, but if it’s going to bring in much-needed funds to Zoo Atlanta, I guess there’s not much we can say, is there?

Peter Klaven

February 15th, 2011
4:56 pm

I think it’s awesome. It’s a great way for the Zoo (and the Chengdu Research Base in China) to improve its financial situation. Plus, as others have mentioned, I’m sure kids will love the idea that the cub is named after the character from the Kung Fu Panda movies. Seems like a win-win situation.


February 15th, 2011
5:10 pm

I’ve read lots of negative comments about this on some other sites. If you read the “profiles” of both Lun Lun and Yang Yang, you will notice that these were not the names given to them at their 100 day ceremony, but were given to them by entities that paid for the naming rights to the pandas. There is nothing different here (I am sure that the partnership with Dreamworks was entered into with the blessing of the Chinese panda authorities). I have been to Chengdu and witnessed their efforts and applaud Zoo Atlanta for entering into a partnership which benefits this facility as well.


February 15th, 2011
5:13 pm

Excellent move by the zoo.
Win-Win situation.


February 15th, 2011
5:25 pm

I really don’t care to be honest wih you. As long as it keeps costs down and allows us to keep toting in our own food and drinks while we are at the zoo, I’m all for it.


February 15th, 2011
6:05 pm

Way to go, Zoo Atlanta! Anything that helps offsets the costs of maintaining a superb habitat for these wonderful animals is A Good Thing. Po won’t care what his name is, and neither will his mama!


February 15th, 2011
8:22 pm

Ditto to TIGER….

EXCEPT Tiger, this Atlanta, and I looked it up, COCA COLA is a corporate sponsor of the Atlanta Zoo. Also Nabisco and Ford both directly have their names attached to attractions at the Atlanta Zoo….So should the kids skip seeing the Gorillas or riding the Carousel?

I am reminded that when Disney opened in Orlando, Kodak donated all the film to the park…meaning Disney never paid a dime for the film to be stocked on the shelves. In return Kodak was named the “offical film of WDW”.

Since we were paying $1 Million and now pay $500K (zoo renegotiated the contract) a year per panda to China, I would think that Disney is now helping to foot that bill and the city of Atlanta reaps the benefit. Like so many other said, you’re over thinking it.

TWG, take a look around the house. Your children are close in age to mine. My house has Pooh, Mickey, Buzz Lightyear, Barbie, HSM, and a host of other movie tie in stuff (some as “prizes” in a Happy Meal…McDonalds and Disney have been ‘partners’ for awhile). So, how is that ok to buy into all that and then say that the Zoo is tacky for having Po? Although I still like Tiger’s arguement about the fish named Nemo.


February 16th, 2011
12:29 am

The difference between buying into all that is Disney, McD’s, etc exist solely for the purpose of making money. There are legitimate concerns that overcommercialization of nonprofit educational institutions can dilute their message/mission and hurt their credibility if it looks like they’re willing to sell their brand/mission to the highest bidder. They can quickly go from being seen as venerable public institutions thought of as essential to their communities to being perceived as just another entertainment venue. It’s a tough spot to be in. Zoos need to protect their brand and mission, but they have to attract funders to keep their programs going. Listing corporate sponsors on a sign seems reasonable to me, but I think they may come to regret going full-blown Hollywood on this. Time will tell…


February 16th, 2011
2:48 am

It’s an unattractive name for a movie character that’s obese and dull. However, if the little cub were to be called Po Lan, his name would translate from Chinese to English as “precious Atlanta” which is worthy of him and Atlanta. I for one am very glad, Atlanta made an investment in Pandas. It’s a small zoo with a big reputation–for it’s size, it’s a great zoo with both a strong message of conservation and fun.


February 16th, 2011
4:35 am

To name a beautiful little panda cub after a Piss Pot is disrespectful! Po in English is the name for a piss pot, or as you say in America, a potty. Just as naming the panda after a cartoon character has turned him into a joke. A terrible lack of respect and reverence for a beautiful creature which should have been given a proper Chinese name reflecting the heritage to which he will return one day.


February 16th, 2011
10:20 am

Case in point -last night my 4 year old was waving around a Kung Fu Panda valentine he received on Monday at school. We live down the street from the zoo, and my kids are used to going all the time. They love it, but it’s not a “special treat” like it is for some who aren’t close. We actually haven’t been in a few months, so I explained the whole new baby panda/naming thing, and he is now SO excited to go see this panda!

@Janet -oh please! I’m sure the panda baby is crying in a corner over being named Po! He feels SO disrespected and thinks he’s a joke! If we actually called him “piss pot” he wouldn’t care! You know what a terrible lack of respect and reverence is for pandas? Not having the money to keep current conservation efforts going both here and in China and letting them die out completely -which happens if children aren’t raised to care about endangered species. Sorry, but you sound like a caricature of some politically correct moron off of a Simpson’s episode.

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February 16th, 2011
10:56 am

ROFL at JATL response to Janet! I was also thinking that when I read her post. I get what HB is saying but I don’t think that the movie tie in will deter vistors even if they hate the movie, Jack Black, Dreamworks, etc. JMO

I’ve never seen Kung Fu Panda so I didn’t even realize that he was named after that character until I saw it on the blog. When I heard the name I immediately started singing the Teletubbies song because that’s the only Po I knew of. My son saw the movie but he has (for the most part) outgrown the movie tie ins. He’s now into the cartoons like Beyblade and Baukugan.


February 16th, 2011
1:16 pm

I think this name is an atrocity. It takes a wonderful, sweet creature and stamps him with crass commercialism. The visual and behavioral depictions of pandas in Kung Fu Panda convey remarkable ignorance and disrespect for such a marvelous, beautiful animal. For shame on Zoo Atlanta. I trust that when Wee Lan “returns” to China in a couple of years, the Chinese will give him a proper Chinese name.


February 16th, 2011
2:17 pm

@ HB Thanks, your repsonse makes sense. I still don’t know that I see an issue with the zoo, but your concern at least makes sense and gives me more to think about.

@ Janet—PO is Chinese for “Treasure”. The Chinese do see Panda’s as their national treasure. Just because it means something in the UK doesn’t make it true everywhere. Sheesh, don’t you think the movie industry looks at that stuff? Disney called their lead character “Simba” because it is Swahili for Lion and kids could say it.

@JATl…I nearly spit my drink out reading your reply. I loved it!

@ TWG my child got a heartbreak….the boy she liked did not give her a valentine…..apparently you don’t have to wait until Middle School it can happen in 5th grade. PLUS you can get the added bonus of your sister telling your mom while getting into the car.


February 16th, 2011
2:59 pm

It’s disappointing that there are now two panda cubs named “Po”. The other was born at Zoo Madrid in September 2010.


February 16th, 2011
6:26 pm

Really people? Really? I think Po is a really sweet name for a panda. The panda doesn’t care. Thank you FCM for the Chinese reference. I remember reading a story with my second graders that I taught several years ago. I think it was the Chinese version of Little Red Riding Hood (but I could have that reference wrong). The title is “Lon Po Po”. I was pretty sure Po did not mean piss pot. Seriously? (If you haven’t read the book, try to read it. It’s a Caldecott Award Winning book and a really sweet story about three sisters and there tenacity against the “Grandmother Wolf.) I think Po is quite fitting and kudos to Zoo Atlanta and Dreamworks for joining forces in a win-win situation.


February 16th, 2011
11:27 pm

You’re welcome, FCM, and just a little more food for thought… I don’t know if the Atlanta Zoo is private nonprofit or a public institution with a nonprofit supplemental support org (”Friends of…), but public zoos and museum are facing these challenges too. Often I hear people say do whatever it takes in terms of corporate or individual sponsorships to keep going, especially if it means saving tax dollars. I think, though, when buildings are renamed for large donors/companies or exhibit content is dictated by funders or companies gain special access to collections and buildings ( google smithsonian showtime deal) then you’re no longer just saving/raising money. You’re selling off public space and treasures at a cheap price. There’s a lot of antigovernment rhetoric these days, but the fact is our government is meant to represent our interests whereas companies’ interest is to make money for their owners. Overreliance on corporate sponsorships for museums and zoos, private-public development partnerships that often give companies authority over public lands and parks in exchange for “revitalizing” areas, etc can diminish citizens’ input and access to these places and collections that we’ve chosen to protect and support for decades. There’s nothing wrong with seeking private support, but if these treasures are truly going to belong to we, the people, then a reasonable balance between government and private support must be kept. Times are tough and spending cuts must be made everywhere, but please urge your representatives at all levels of government not to completely slash funding to these public resources, forcing them to go totally corporate or worse, shut down altogether.


February 17th, 2011
10:05 am

ROFWL, Me, watch The Simpsons?!! Now you are really being funny. I’ve got better things to do with my time than watch cartoons on tv. The point is this, that in most other naming ceremonies reverence has been shown to the panda and its Chinese heritage by choosing an auspicious Chinese name and holding a respectful Chinese ceremony in line with tradition. ZA chose to turn its event into a crass commercial for Dreamworks. That is the difference that has upset so many people. A good negotiator should have been able to get the sponsorship money out of Dreamworks and still retain a sense of Chinese tradition around the name and a sense of serious conservation in the ceremony. Why? Because, as reported in the business press, Dreamworks is desperate to get a foothold in the door of China’s massive market and access to its film and television rights. So there was room for negotiation. But instead, Dreamworks seem to have dangled the dollars in front of ZA and said you’ll get these only on the the proviso you call the panda Po after our character and ZA has simply said yes.