Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
DreamWorks spent much of its computer-animation days in the Zeroes being a grasshopper to Pixar’s wizened sensei. But they occasionally were able to match the thematic scope and propulsive joy of Pixar productions.
One such surprise: 2008’s patient, powerful Kung Fu Panda. Sure, a panda’s jiggling butt cheeks squished an opponent’s head in slow motion. But the film possessed a grace, beauty and unbridled respect for kung fu as spiritual discipline and as filmmaking fodder.
Jack Black punctuates dialogue with his typically giddy, gravelly spins of bravado as Po, the titular panda unexpectedly foretold to be a savior from a vicious foe. He’s hit hard and often throughout, but his bounce-back ability and indomitable will are part of the film’s charm.
Directors John Stevenson and Mark Osborne know all parts of this ancient Chinese art — using teamwork, honor and humility as strong components, along with the perils of choosing pride over perseverance. There also is a tender parental concern between several characters and warriors struggling to reclaim their sense of learning as a lifelong process.
Exhilarating acrobatic scenes of combat offer no quarter to live-action rivals in the adrenaline department. And it remains DreamWorks’ most beautifully animated film, with influences ranging from impressionism to manga’s deep shadows and sharp-stab brushstrokes.
To paraphrase “Kung Fu Fighting” (mercifully heard once) — Kung Fu Panda was as fast as lightning, a little bit frightening and done with expert timing.