DVD Picks & Passes 11.02.2008

Kung Fu Panda (2008)

The Wild Parrots of

Telegraph Hill (2004)

The Little Rascals:

The Complete Collection (1938)

New this week on DVD, Kung Fu Panda is one of the year’s best cartoons, a solid family flick and a pretty good kung fu movie.

Jack Black voices Po, a noodle-dishing panda in ancient rural China who lacks any aptitude for kung fu — but makes up for it in enthusiasm and determination. He’s like the hero in Rudy: No matter how much you hurt him, he won’t give up.

The themes are familiar — be yourself, believe in yourself and you can achieve anything — but the story also emphasizes the necessity of persistence, discipline, and facing adversity and failure.

Po learns that “The mark of a true hero is humility,” and there’s an intriguing exchange about having, or lacking, control over events. There’s also a little kung-fu mysticism, notably in the strange scene in which a character fades out of the picture like Yoda in Return of the Jedi. Parents should be aware, too, that the kung fu sometimes gets really rough; though it’s played for laughs, I winced more than once.

The story is sweeter and shows more heart than you might think. Who would guess that the super-bad villain’s past connection with the heroes might still strike a chord in his stony heart — or that of his flinty former teacher?

Newly available in a two-disc collector’s edition, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is a charming indie documentary that focuses on the life challenges of a population of exotic birds. In this case, it’s a flock of tropical conures native to South America who are living in San Francisco.

Lacking the special equipment and big budgets of March of the Penguins and Winged Migration, Wild Parrots captures some memorable images — a bird hilariously grooving to music; a lump-inducing sequence involving a red-tailed hawk — but generally relies on the birds’ photogenic charm as well as the human dimension to sustain the 83-minute film.

Smart and savvy, the exotic birds seem to be holding their own in their urban setting, and the film’s triumph is that you want them to remain a bold splash of local color in a city that already has more than its fair share.

Our Gang fans rejoice! Newly available in an eight-disc set, The Little Rascals: The Complete Collection offers all 80 episodes of Our Gang produced by Hal Roach, later rebranded as “The Little Rascals,” as well as some early silent shorts. The best of Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat and Darla — it’s all here.

PARENTAL ADVISORY: Kung Fu Panda: Much intense animated violence, slapstick and menace; mild crude humor; mild kung-fu mysticism. Too intense for sensitive kids. Wild Parrots: Some documentary footage of dead, injured or sick birds. Kids and up. Little Rascals: Fine family viewing.

Also new on DVD: PICKS: The Bourne Trilogy (mature viewing); A Christmas Story (collector’s edition / Blu-ray; kids and up), Planet of the Apes (Blu-ray; teens and up). PASS: Madagascar (“Holiday Edition”); The Polar Express in 3-D (Blu-ray); Jim Carrey’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas (deluxe / collectible edition).