Category Archives: Film

Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling

After taking a trip to the past with Rocko’s Modern Life during the spring, it seems only fitting that I also take a look at the Rocko’s Modern Life movie from 2019: Static Cling. To be fair, the term “movie” is definitely used loosely when applied to this piece of media. Static Cling was originally conceived by Nickelodeon as a one hour TV special with commercials so the running time is a tidy 45 minutes. It’s basically a double-episode, but considering Rocko’s Modern Life had never had a special before it’s easily the longest story the show ever committed to.

The special was announced in 2016 by Nickelodeon and it rejoins the original cast, alongside series creator Joe Murray, and gives fans a look at what Rocko (Carlos Alazraqui), Heffer (Tom Kenny), Filburt (Doug Lawrence), and the rest have been up to since. The theme of the special is change as it’s a very metta look at how audiences grapple with the loss of something from their past and seek out nostalgia binges to fill that hole left behind. The special will drive that point home quite literally by having Rocko, who has been lost in space since the events of “Future Schlock,” return to an O-Town that has long since ridden itself of his favorite cartoon: The Fatheads. Rocko is forced to confront this new O-Town and adapt to a new modern without his binky and he finds it impossible. Conversely, he has to watch his two best friends adapt just fine as Heffer and Filburt become immediately enchanted by modern technology. A clerical error by neighbor Ed Bighead (Charlie Adler), whose life has apparently been bliss since Rocko and his friends were blasted off into space, causes the mega-corporation, Conglom-O, to lose all of its paper value thus plunging all of O-Town (since Conglom-O owns everything) into a depression. Rocko is able to convince the head at Conglom-O, Mr. Dupette (Adler), that a way to help the company out would be to produce a new Fatheads TV Special. The only problem is that series creator Ralph Bighead (Joe Murray) hasn’t been seen or heard from in years.

Alternatively known as Static Cling: The Rocko Special.

The early bits of the special unfold in a predictable, but still entertaining, manner. Rocko and the gang are shown adjusting to modern life and the classic opening segment from the TV show is even redone with modern technology now harassing Rocko. There’s also a nice bit of the boys taking in a gritty reboot of Really Really Big Man that’s an obvious parody of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Even though the special is basically mocking those who have been begging for this show to return for the last 20 years, there’s still a ton of fan service throughout as basically every character of note returns for a cameo, at the very least.

Some of the jokes the special makes are rather easy, but they’re also the type of jokes that pretty much have to be made.

Static Cling was commissioned as a Nickelodeon TV Special initially, but the network wound up passing on it and selling the rights to Netflix. This caused a rather significant delay in getting the special in front of fans. Nickelodeon never offered up a reason why it chose to option the special to Netflix, but many speculate it has to do with the character formerly known as Ralph Bighead. A major plot device in the special is that when Rocko eventually finds Ralph, he finds that Ralph no longer identifies as male and has taken the name Rachel instead. The reaction of Rocko and his friends, and basically everyone in town, is very positive as they basically congratulate Rachel and that’s that. Rachel’s father, Ed, is the only one who has an issue with it resurrecting his line “I have no son!” from the Season Two premiere. Nickelodeon was reportedly supportive of the idea to add a transgender character, and it certainly fits the theme of change, but it’s not the best look for the network that it chose to pass on airing this. Maybe the network found it could make more by selling the distribution rights to Netflix, but how much would the pay-out have been affected if Nickelodeon chose to premiere it on its own network and then pass it off to Netflix? Probably not a lot and it’s a shame it didn’t see this as an opportunity to make a positive social statement.

The re-done opening credits gag will likely be a favorite part for many fans.

The look and sound of Static Cling is quite similar to what fans remember from the show, but also a bit different. Cartoons just aren’t made in the same manner they were back in the 90s so Static Cling doesn’t necessarily look like a 90s cartoon. It’s obviously all digital and a bit more “clean” to look at. Some of that Rocko’s Modern Life grime has been lost and this is overall a far less gross version of the show than viewers are used to. Not that Rocko’s Modern Life needed to be gross in order to be funny. The only big change I felt a bit jarring is that Rocko’s fur is a deeper shade of beige than it was before. As mentioned before, basically all of the cast returned to voice the main characters and the side ones as well. Pretty much all of them still sound the same, though Tom Kenny’s Heffer is a bit higher and is the most notable difference.

The Chokey Chicken has undergone a makeover.

Rocko’s Modern Life was able to garner itself a reputation for adult humor during its life as it sometimes found itself censored after airing. Fans hoping for something as titillating as “Leap Frogs” or the infamous moo-milker gag might be a little let down by Static Cling. The Chokey Chicken does get to have its original name restored (it’s mascot has also been slimmed down as it’s become health conscious in this new modern setting) and Really Really Big Man’s magic nipples get some screen time as well. The only borderline lewdness I picked up on was just an emphasis on Mrs. Bighead’s ample bosom. There’s a scene where a fence divides her and Rocko and her breasts hang over it right in Rocko’s face, though he doesn’t seem to notice. She even reaches into her cleavage to pull out an object, though that’s the kind of gag I feel like the original show could have got away with anyway (and maybe did).

Static Cling does an excellent job of giving these characters a reason to exist in the 2010s. The foundation is solid, though I found the last fifteen minutes or so started to drag for me. A lot of the best humor and gags occur early in the special and it doesn’t help that the Rachel Bighead plot feels very similar to Ralph’s debut in “I Have No Son.” It was both disappointing and predictable to see Ed Bighead serves as the conflict once again for Rachel and the character just re-learns the lesson he had already learned back in that old episode. Maybe it could have been more interesting if the opposite had occurred and it was Bev Bighead that took issue with Rachel? Anything to make it feel less redundant would have likely helped, though maybe it didn’t feel redundant to someone who hasn’t seen that episode in 20 years.

It shouldn’t be glossed over that the inclusion of Rachel is a pretty eventful change, and one that should be celebrated.

Ultimately, Static Cling does have something to say and it’s a worthwhile message. It’s examination of modern fandom and nostalgia is pretty on point, and the overall message that change is necessary is a statement worth saying. The fact that it also contains a positive portrayal of a transgender character is also great as that’s a minority that is still under-represented. It never stoops to cheap trans jokes too, which is a plus, as the production did seek input from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) during production. It’s also hard not to enjoy Static Cling for the reason it seems to not want the viewer to enjoy it for and that’s just the pure nostalgia trip one gets from interacting with these characters once again. I have no doubt that because of it’s approach to comically infuse cartoon characters into a modern society that Rocko’s Modern Life could make a full comeback and be just as funny in 2020 as it was in 1995. It’s perhaps the cartoon from that era that has aged the best. It doesn’t seem like Joe Murray is interested in a full-blown comeback, but at least we got a little taste of what life would be like for Rocko in the 2010s.


Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie

In 1995 the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were at the height of their powers. The show had premiered on Fox Kids in the summer of 1993 and was basically an instant hit. Saban Entertainment churned out 60 episodes for that first season followed by a 52 episode second season which finished airing in early 1995. When it comes to successful children’s properties, most executives want to strike while the property is burning bright so a movie was fast-tracked for summer 1995. It would be a whole different kind of production as the television show was a mash-up of three separate shows. The Power Rangers as teens was all shot in California, while the majority of the action was taken from Super Sentai, a long-running Japanese action-adventure television series. To make things more complicated, the White Ranger was introduced in Season Two even though he was featured in an entirely different season of Sentai which is how you end up with three distinct source productions.

For the movie, 20th Century Fox stepped in and took over for the notoriously cheap Saban Entertainment. Saban was so cheap that by the time the second season ended three actors had been replaced with new ones. Austin St. John, Walter Emanuel Jones, and Thuy Tran had been replaced as the red, black, and yellow rangers when the three tried forming a union to request better wages. The actors reportedly were making $600 per week and we’re being asked to do their own stunts as well. For a hugely successful show, one would think they were justified in requesting a raise. Saban though is run by Haim Saban, the same executive who reasoned that the writers for the wildly successful X-Men cartoon should take a pay cut for the second season because now that the show was a hit, writers should be banging down on his door to write for it. The three original Rangers were replaced by Steve Cardenas, Johnny Yong Bosch, and Karan Ashley while the other three who declined not to unionize (Jason David Frank, Amy Jo Johnson, and David Yost) remained.

The Power Rangers leap onto the big screen with new, armored, costumes.

It’s for that reason that it feels like Fox was just a few months late with the movie. Had the more memorable, and frankly better, characters made it to the big screen it probably would have had more of an impact. Then again, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers isn’t really a film that asks much of its heroes, save for them to mostly look cool and jump around. There’s one memorable line from the Rangers in the entire film, so basically anyone could have played these parts.

With Fox on board it meant someone else got to foot the bill other than Saban. It’s not uncommon for a movie based on a television property to look much better than its small screen counterpart, but for this film it was clear that Fox really wanted to make that point. The Power Rangers have their recognizable costumes, but they’re now padded with armor plating. The villainous Lord Zedd’s (Mark Ginther) exposed brain now throbs with every line of dialogue and his right hand monster, Goldar (Kerry Casey), gets to sport glowing red eyes and re-worked face. The end result is a bit of a mixed bag for the characters we’re familiar with. Zedd looks quite menacing, while the Power Rangers look more like motocross participants and Goldar is actually less menacing than he was on television.

Ivan Ooze is the true star of this one.

What does work is the film’s new lead villain. The basic story is a strange artifact shows up at a dig site that contains the ancient evil Ivan Ooze (Paul Freeman). He apparently caused some trouble many years ago and an older version of the Power Rangers, together with their leader Zordon (Nicholas Bell), defeated him and sealed him away. Zedd is aware of the discovery and sees an opportunity to enlist Ooze’s help to defeat the Power Rangers and take over the world, but Ooze has other ideas. He traps Zedd and his bride, Rita Repulsa (Julia Cortez), in a snowglobe and takes over his operations with his own goal for global domination. He attacks Zordon and lays waste to the command center of the Power Rangers sapping them of their powers. The Rangers are then forced to use the last of their powers to warp to a distant planet to find a greater power in the hope that it will allow them to save Zordon and defeat Ivan Ooze for good.

The film marks the theatrical debut for director Bryan Spicer who worked with John Kamps and Arne Olsen to craft the story and script for the film. It’s a very basic story of a bad guy stripping a hero of their power and forcing them to find a new source to train, power-up, and return. It’s actually very similar to the plot of the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film in which the heroes lose their surrogate father and have to leave for a period only to come back and save the day. The film is only an hour and thirty-five minutes, but it’s a long hour and thirty-five minutes as there’s a lot of padding to be found. The film begins with a lengthy, and pointless, sky-diving sequence which gives way to an extended roller-blading outing for the Rangers. I guess the idea was to make the heroes look cool while also hitting that magic 90 minute running-time, but there’s a lot of pointless stuff going on.

The Power Rangers also have new, ninja, outfits to show off which means Bandai has more toys it can sell.

The acting presented here is about what you would expect. The Rangers themselves are rather wooden, but they’re also given some of the worst lines to work with. Tommy, played by Jason David Frank, is perhaps miscast as the leader of the bunch since he struggles with basically every line except for “It’s morphin’ time!” I say “perhaps miscast” because I am not sure any of the others really demonstrate anything better. Amy Jo Johnson, who plays Kimberly the Pink Ranger, is probably the best of the bunch, but even she isn’t given a whole lot. Worse is that she and Aisha, the Yellow Ranger, seem to constantly find themselves in peril calling out for help from the male Rangers in virtually every conflict. This is a departure from the show where the girls are freely allowed to kick some ass and even bail out their male comrades. There’s also a romance angle shoe-horned into the relationship of Tommy and Kimberly, but there’s absolutely no chemistry to be found between the two actors.

As is the case with the television show, the real stars of the film are the villains. Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa are a fun odd-couple pairing, for the brief time they’re around. They make me smile when they’re on screen, and I would have been very disappointed with how they’re written out if not for the presence of Paul Freeman’s Ivan Ooze. Ooze is a ridiculous looking villain, which is perfect for a film like this one that has a bit of a B-movie vibe going for it. He’s funny, flamboyant, and the pile of prosthetics Freeman is forced to wear do not cover-up his face so he’s free to emote and use his facial expressions to further enhance the character. He’s easily the best part of the film and it’s almost a shame he had to endure so many hours in a makeup chair for such a picture.

My children found movie Zordon frightening.

Where the film really takes a turn for the worse is in its desire to elevate the product above the television show. The show is formulaic and repetetive, but it’s not without its charm. The cheap effects are endearing, and the bad rock music soundtrack has a way of worming its way into your ear. Note that I don’t consider the main theme song, “Go, Go, Power Rangers!” as among the bad. That song is perfect for what it is. For the film, licensed music is brought in as is often the case for summer blockbusters. There are songs from The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Van Halen to go along with the techno-rock score that just isn’t nearly as fun as the television soundtrack. It causes the property to have a sense of being in over its head, like it doesn’t belong, when in reality the soundtrack was aiming to do the opposite.

“Mega” is not the way I would describe this Megazord.

Worse than the soundtrack though, are the effects. There are a great many instances of practical effects in this film, which is what is appropriate for the franchise. Some of them get a little silly, like the White Ranger doing a comical amount of flips through the air. His deployment of his sentient sword, Saba, is also awesomely bad. What can’t be forgiven though is the CG finale. The film only had a budget of roughly $20 million so no one would expect Jurassic Park CG, but where the films errs is in its attempt to make the zords, giant robots piloted by the Power Rangers, entirely CG. Same with the evolved form of Ooze which features a frozen face completely removing the character’s strength. The zords are just brutal to look at and it’s a real shame that the studio didn’t just pour money into making awesome costumes for the stunt performers. The Rangers even get new, more powerful, zords, but kids were likely left underwhelmed at the end result. They do show up in the TV show in a manner fans were accustomed to, and they look light years ahead of what’s presented here.

You would probably believe me if I said this was from a PlayStation game, not a major Hollywood blockbuster.

I decided to watch Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie largely because my kids have been watching the original show and it’s been a fun trip down memory lane for me. I honestly can’t remember if I had ever sat down and watched this movie beforehand, but if I did I can see why it wasn’t very memorable. I was hoping for more camp and plenty of humor, some intentional and some unintentional, but the film really doesn’t deliver. The only redeeming part of it for me was Ivan Ooze, and when he’s not on screen I’m just not entertained, save for one line by Johnny Yong Bosch when he finds out he’s receiving the powers of a frog. The film was a hit as it reportedly made over $60 million at the box office plus it probably made a bunch more in merchandising. Despite that though, there was no Mighty Morphin sequel. Instead, we got Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie in 1997 which bombed at the box office. The franchise was also rebooted in 2017 as simply Power Rangers, but it didn’t perform well enough to warrant a sequel and rumor has it the film franchise is destined for another reboot. The show is still going though and it seems like the type of series that will last forever at this point. It’s just a shame that its best era received such a dismal feature.


Ghostbusters Plasma Series: Venkman

Bill Murray is the greatest actor of all time. If you want to disagree with me, that’s fine, just know that you’re wrong. Because of my love of toys and Mr. Murray, I’ve always wanted a Bill Murray action figure. It might sound like a weird want to most people, but to a toy enthusiast it probably isn’t. If one were to aspire to own Bill Murray in plastic though, then the easy franchise to look to is Ghostbusters.

The Real Ghostbusters is the toyline that made me an action figure fan for life. I loved that series from Kenner as I had the firehouse, the Ghostbusters, numerous vehicles, and some ghosts. That franchise is based on the cartoon though, and the actual Ghostbusters did not resemble their real-life counterparts even in the slightest. That is almost certainly due to money, as if you’re going to make a cartoon that uses the likeness of actors like Murray and Harold Ramis then it stands to reason that those individuals need to be compensated.

Nostalgia has taken over the toy collecting world though, and actual toys based on the original 1984 hit Ghostbusters have been trickling out for years. There have been some high end ones, and some more mass market friendly releases. I’ve always intended to purchase a Peter Venkman from one of those many lines to satisfy my Murray obsession, but I just never did. For one reason or another, I just either wasn’t enthused with the product or I didn’t like the price. Well, today on a trip to Target for some essentials, I made an impulse buy when I stopped by the toy section as staring at me right in the face was a Peter Venkman from Hasbro’s new Plasma Series of toys.

Hasbro is the latest license holder to acquire Ghostbusters. Previously, Mattel held the license and I believe Diamond Select also had it at one point. Hasbro is a well known toy creator as it currently holds many of pop culture’s biggest licenses such as Marvel and Star Wars. Once upon a time, I was a Marvel enthusiast and was way deep into the Marvel Legends line, but when Hasbro acquired the license from Toy Biz I wasn’t impressed. I left that line around 2006 and I haven’t purchased a Hasbro toy since. For that reason, this purchase was a bit like a homecoming for me. I have nothing against Hasbro as a company, I just don’t have much interest in the licenses they hold. This was the first release that had appealed to me in quite some time, so I was curious to see how Hasbro’s action figures stand up in 2020.

The Ghostbusters Plasma Line all come packaged in an attractive window box display. One side panel features a bit of stylized art of the four Ghostbusters and the rear dispalys the rest of the line. There’s also a brief blurb on the character. For Venkman, the box reads: “The man with the mouth: Peter can convince (almost) anybody of (almost) anything.” Short and to the point, it described the character well enough. Each figure comes with a few accessories as well as a piece of Vince Clortho in demon-dog form. For Peter, it’s the left, front, leg. The other figures in the line include the other three Ghostbusters, Dana in her Zuul attire, and Gozer. The retail at Target was $19.99 so if you want to build your own demonic canine it will cost you around $140. Hopefully you don’t want two.

Peter Venkman comes clad in his traditional Ghostbusters outfit from the first film. It’s the khaki one with the logo on the right shoulder complete with black boots and gloves. He stands right around 6″ and possesses a great deal of articulation. His head sits on a ball joint with great range of motion. The shoulders are ball-jointed and there’s a hint of a butterfly joint in there as well for turning the shoulders into the body. It doesn’t do much though. He has a biceps swivel which is a little tight out of the box and double-jointed elbows. At the wrist he has a swivel and a hinge joint to tilt the hands up and down. His torso is on a ball-joint so he has some good motion there that doesn’t detract as much from the sculpt as an ab crunch would, though he lacks traditional waist articulation. The legs are attached via ball-joints with thigh swivels and double-jointed knees. The ankles are on swivels, but with an odd pitch to them so they sort of turn out and up instead of on a straight plane. The feet also rock side to side.

What I understand to be typical of Hasbro is fairly true here in that most of the figure is colored plastic. There’s not a ton of paint work aside from a yellow cable on his belt and the logo on his arm. The face is a solid likeness for Murray, as good as one would expect at this price point. I’ve seen more expensive Venkman figures with lesser face sculpts. He has a cocky smirk which is befitting of the character, though I wish he had a five-o-clock shadow. The uniform looks great and even features the screen accurate detail of Venkman’s pants not being tucked into his boots. He has his walkie talkie affixed to his belt, though it’s non-removable, and the belt itself is a floating piece of plastic which adds a little depth to the look of the figure. The hands are in trigger-finger positions as opposed to a more generic grip. I’m not sure this really adds anything to the figure as the proton pack doesn’t feature a trigger, but the plastic is soft enough that he can hold his accessories with only a little bit of fuss. The lack of paint means he’s fairly glossy to look at. A wash over the uniform might have done some good, and his eyes are particularly shiny, but it’s an attractive enough piece.

For accessories, Venkman comes with his proton pack and a ghost trap. The proton pack is a really nice sculpt with some paint highlights as well. It’s attached to a harness that features two shoulder straps, a belt, and a peg to fit into Peter’s back. The belt of the proton pack detaches on the left side and it was more than a little troublesome out of the box. It almost looks like it was glued in place which had me doubting myself if I was supposed to even go this route in order to get this thing onto Venkman. I did manage to unfasten it, but I was scared the whole time that the peg would come off with it. It definitely could have been done better and isn’t something that would probably hold up well to repeated removals. The actual blaster portion can be holstered on the side of the pack or held by the figure. It’s on a soft piece of plastic and seems reasonably durable. Venkman has enough articulation that he can hold the end of it in a casual manner, ready across his chest, or point it to bust some ghosts. The other accessory, the trap, looks the part, though it doesn’t do anything. Venkman can hold it, but there isn’t an easy way to clip it onto his belt or anything like that. It also doesn’t have the activation pedal. The only other accessory is the build-a-figure piece which I suppose looks fine, though I’m not about to judge that figure based on one leg.

Positioning and posing Venkman is pretty rewarding. There isn’t much he can’t do that you would want him to do based on what the character does in the film. His feet are a bit small, so he’s a little harder to stand than I expected he would be. The proton pack also adds some weight to the figure, but not enough to make standing him impossible. For the price, he’s as good as expected. The only real shortcoming with the figure is the lack of extra hands as he pretty much needs to be holding his proton blaster to not look stupid. A screaming second head would have also been cool, but not expected or really necessary. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hasbro does a slimed variant in the future.

The Plasma Series Venkman is an action figure that gets the job done. I wanted a Bill Murray toy, and was happy to take him in his Ghostbusters attire, and this fit the bill. It’s about what one would expect of a mass market action figure at the $20 price point, but it also doesn’t exactly leave me feeling like Hasbro went above and beyond like NECA often does with its products. It also didn’t leave me with a compulsion to buy the rest of the line, so Peter is going to have to get used to hanging out with the Lego versions of the other Ghostbusters. Maybe if they ever hit clearance I’d revisit it, but probably not. For Ghostbusters enthusiasts, I suspect they’re happy to have an improvement on what Mattel did in the past and at an affordable price point.


NECA TMNT Casey Jones and Raphael (In Disguise)

“The class is Pain 101. Your instructor’s Casey Jones.”

There may not be a more quotable scene from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than the encounter between Casey Jones and Raphael. Raphael, after taking in a movie he appeared unimpressed by, stops a purse-snatching and scares the kids off with a simple gesture to his sai. The kids take shelter in Central Park, where they have a chance encounter with the vigilante Casey Jones. Jones witnessed the attempted thievery, but he’s not as forgiving as Raph. Before he can really lay into the teens with an assortment of sports equipment turned weapons, Raph breaks it up which brings about the memorable encounter.

It was a trip for me as a kid to see my favorite green heroes on the big screen, and it was almost equally as entertaining to see Casey Jones. Played by Elias Koteas, Jones basically leapt from the comics and cartoon and took to live-action effortlessly. His attire was simple: sweatpants, t-shirt, vest, and that trademarked hockey mask. It should have been easy to translate to a film, but the performance of Koteas throughout the film should not be dismissed so easily. He’s an entertaining and even endearing character. There was probably so much more that could have been done with him, but in an effort to tone down the violence from the first film the Casey Jones character was written out of the sequel, I suppose in favor of the much less-celebrated Keno. He did return for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, but the less said about that film the better.

As has probably been noted in every one of my reviews of NECA’s movie-inspired Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line of action figures, this is a notable release because it’s the first of its kind. The movie was not expected to perform well, so Playmates did not support it with any toys. When it did prove a surprise hit, the company went straight to producing toys based on the sequel. That meant the Turtles themselves at least received figures as well as many others, but the characters and designs unique to the first film never did. And it doesn’t look like Casey received a figure for the third film, which is a bit surprising. Fans of Casey Jones have had to wait 30 years for a proper figure, but he’s finally here and fans are left to determine if he was worth the wait.

Not to be ignored though, is the fact that Casey Jones is part of the first movie two-pack released by NECA exclusively through Walmart. Along for the ride is Raphael in disguise sporting his trench coat and hat. This Raph is a scaled-down version of the quarter-scale figure, which is also just the regular movie Raphael, but with a coat and hat. It’s a fairly iconic look for the character that deserves a proper action figure and bundling him with Casey Jones makes perfect sense. I suppose there are some out there who would have preferred he come with another all-new sculpt, (April? Tatsu?) but I can’t say I feel cheated or anything.

Let’s talk about Raph first before getting to the main event, of sorts. Raphael is the exact same figure released previously as part of a four-pack of Turtles as a San Diego Comic Con exclusive and also released as a single-pack through GameStop last year. NECA has taken the movie line from GameStop to Walmart, in case you were wondering, and the previously released figures should start showing up any day now in two-packs as well. In comparing the figure with my SDCC edition, his face looks a touch lighter to me with a little more yellow mixed-in with the green. The eyes on my original Raph were kind of screwy as well, but this new one looks fine. It might have been neat if he could have had a new head, perhaps one with more teeth such as when he rescues April in the subway, but this is a good likeness of the character. His default mask “tails” is a new piece that diverts the tails around his neck instead of off to one side. He comes with the other two pieces, one going left and one going right, should you wish to swap it out, but I think the default one looks best. The coat is a soft goods coat and it looks really sharp. There’s one loose string on my Raph’s left shoulder, but otherwise the cut looks great. The buttons are non-functioning, but the belt and pockets are real. His hat is soft plastic and there’s a little hole for the knot of his mask. You could, if you wanted, pop out the tail piece and re-insert it through the hat to possibly get it stay on better, but he looks good no matter what you choose to do there. He also has his backpack, which is made of more soft plastic. It’s the biggest hindrance to getting the coat off and I suspect you would either need to cut the straps or pop his arms off to do so, but why would you?

Underneath that coat everything appears to be the same. All of the spots and battle-damage on Raph’s shell all look to be there. This also means all of the articulation is still in place as well. Raph will be restricted by his coat to some degree, though the cloth nature of it means it’s not as restricting as you may have expected. Raphael features a nice, tight, ball-joint at the neck. The default mask tails restricts his mobility a bit, but that’s what the other parts are for. He has ball-joints at the shoulders and elbows, plus hinges at both as well. There’s a forearm swivel and wrist swivel plus a hinge at the hand. Underneath the shell is a torso ball-joint that provides a little movement, but the shell (and coat) don’t allow for this joint to do much. He has ball and hinge joints at the thigh to go along with double-jointed knees. His feet are on a hinge, but there isn’t much movement there. It can also rock side-to-side a bit. This was plenty for the standard release, though for this version I wish the feet had more range of motion as the added bulk of the backpack makes him a challenge to stand. I can get him to stand in some poses, but ultimately I think I’ll use a stand when I place him on a shelf.

As far as accessories go, Raph seems a bit light compared with his box-mate. That’s fine since Raph really doesn’t need much aside from his outfit and trusty sai. That outfit is the star, of course, since it looks and feels fantastic. Despite not featuring a wire inside it, I found the coat easy to move and position. It can be bunched up in places to gain more range of motion at the arms, or allowed to conceal as much of this big turtle in a trench coat as possible. I was even able to get him to properly hold a baseball bat without much hassle. Raph also comes with both sai, even though he was down to one when he met Casey. He comes with gripping hands affixed to his arms, and optional open palms and finger-pointing/optional sai grips as well, just like the standard figure. NECA also tossed in a slice of pizza for good measure since I guess you can never have too many of those, though I kind of wish they had stuck a hole in the middle for his sai even though he didn’t do that until the second film. Or maybe a chewed up apple would have been fun.

Raphael is pretty sweet, but he’s also a variant of a two-year old figure. What collectors are really excited for is Casey Jones! Casey stands at about seven inches making him roughly half an inch taller than Raph, which feels about right. He’s in his first-appearance attire which includes a non-removable hockey mask. Underneath the mask is indeed a face that vaguely resembles Elias Koteas (you’ll have to search online to see for yourself), but the only way to get it off is to chisel it since it’s glued on. The mask also features pegs, and the straps are part of the sculpt, so your figure will look pretty stupid without a mask. NECA was unable to secure an agreement with Koteas to use his likeness, which is why there’s no unmasked head included. Though let’s be honest, basically everyone is displaying this guy with the mask on anyways, even if he only wears it for a small part of the film. Koteas confirmed on Instagram recently that he has actually given his blessing to NECA to go ahead and do a figure with his face on it, so don’t be surprised if we get an unmasked variant down the road (or a quarter-scale version with a removable mask) as part of another two-pack.

Sounds like we can expect a variant of Casey in the future.

Casey’s sculpt looks to be pretty damn accurate to the screen version. He has a white t-shirt with a vest over it that’s actually a shirt with cut-off sleeves. Both the shirt and vest are a soft plastic, though the sleeves on his arms are sculpted. He’s got his gray sweatpants on and black high-tops to go along with fingerless gloves for added bad-assness. The mask is the star of the show though as it looks great. It’s a thick plastic with a glossy paint-job that looks great. The decision to sculpt it separately with a face underneath also means his eyes looks menacing and the slits over the mouth could be actual cuts in the plastic rather than painted lines. If anything appears to be a touch off, it’s the hair which looks heavy as opposed to the more frizzy appearance it had on film. Hair is notoriously difficult to sculpt though so this barely registers as even a nit-pick. The knees also a look a tad odd, but again, that’s because NECA is trying to recreate a soft cloth like sweatpants in plastic form. NECA opted to make the plastic of the thigh go over the lower leg rather than do a kneecap. It’s tough to say what would look better and I bet the sculptors were left wishing the character had sported knee pads in the film. I’m curious if the expected quarter-scale version will experiment with soft goods for the sweatpants or stick with plastic.

Casey is pretty well loaded with articulation like his little, green, buddy. His head is on a ball-joint and partially restricted by the hair, but nothing that should cause issue. He has ball-jointed shoulders and double-jointed elbows to go along with a forearm swivel and the same swivel-hinge articulation at the wrist enjoyed by Raph. What I can’t determine is if he has any kind of ab crunch as the t-shirt prevents me from figuring that out. He has some waist articulation, but the shirt again prevents much of the movement. His thighs are on ball joints, but he features just a simple hinge at the knee. The ankles can swivel freely and there’s a hinge joint as well that’s quite restrictive. He’s a bit tough to stand as well, especially with the golf bag on, so he’s likely going to end up with a stand as well. He would likely need bigger feet to stand better, but that obviously wouldn’t be screen-accurate. More leg/torso articulation could have possibly helped as well, but then you’re cutting up those sweatpants and shirt even more which would have been less aesthetically pleasing.

The paint job on Casey is simple and effective. The clothing is done with a matte finish, but the shoes have a bit of a shine to him. His laces are painted black as well, which is probably screen-accurate, but I’ve never tried to stare at the character’s shoes. The t-shirt has an understated dark wash applied to it giving it a grimey look which is a nice touch. Casey doesn’t seem like the type who stayed up doing laundry. The only negative with the paint is the hinge piece of the shoulders was left unpainted, so if Casey’s arms are up it will look a bit ugly.

That’s a full bag.

As expected, Casey comes with a lot of goodies. He has his golf bag to store everything in which fits easily over his head and arm. It’s soft plastic so it’s fairly light, but once it’s full of stuff it’s no longer quite so light. The strap is rather thin and doesn’t disconnect so you’ll want to handle with care to not snap it at one end. For weapons, Casey comes with a pair of baseball bats (sadly, no Jose Canseco signature spotted on either), a hockey stick (left-handed, interestingly), a goalie stick, golf club (wood), and of course the infamous cricket bat. The weapons all look great with a paint-wash applied to nearly all of them to give them a weathered look. Most feature athletic tape, and the only one that looks brand new is the golf club. And it should, since that’s from the end of the film when Casey uses it to finish off Tatsu (“I’ll never call golf a dull game again.”) and is a nice touch since NECA could have chosen to omit it given the set is so scene specific. You can also fit everything into the golf bag with some effort, though the giant goalie stick looks a bit ridiculous sticking out of the bag. In the film, he only ever needed room for the two bats and the cricket bat so being able to fit them all wasn’t even a realistic goal, but they pulled it off. Not much to complain about either in terms of screen accuracy. I noted that the hockey stick is left-handed, but it looks like a righty stick on screen. And Casey certainly swings that cricket bat right-handed. The bats also probably could have been lighter in color, but I can’t say either thing is something that bothers me. These weapons are a lot of fun and I’m glad to see that Casey has a full assortment.

Look at all of that stuff!

Casey is going to need some hands to wield those weapons, and he has a bunch. His default hands are simple fists for when he wants to get his hands dirty. He also has two sets of gripping hands. I can’t really tell what’s different about them, the gripping opening might be just a touch larger on one set versus the other, but it’s pretty light. The goalie stick does require a bit more room to wield properly, but I seem to have little trouble regardless. His gripping hands are also really soft so you can bend the fingers around whatever he’s holding. Maybe the extras are just in case of ware and tare? He also has a pointing right hand and a more relaxed open left hand to rest a hockey stick or bat in. It’s a nice assortment and the long pegs and soft nature of the plastic makes swapping them pretty effortless.

Casey Jones is a more than worthy addition to what is perhaps the most impressive line NECA has ever produced. The likeness all of the figures from the first TMNT movie have been incredible, and Casey is no exception. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the fine work of sculptors Trevor Zammit, Kyle Windrix, and Trevor Grove. And no one should be snoozing on the Raphael in this set either. I was a bit on the fence with him and questioned whether or not I would have purchased a single-carded version of the character in disguise, but now that I have him I’m pretty happy to say that I do. My collection would have been lacking if I had a Casey Jones with no Raph to go along with him. As much as I identify Casey with April, a two-pack of them on a porch swing is certainly not nearly as exciting as the confrontation between mutant hero and vigilante.

If you want to add this two-pack to your movie collection, it can be found exclusively at Walmart for $49.99. It just started showing up last week and is still shipping to stores as I type this. Some areas will just start to receive it this week. It was also offered for purchase online, but basically sold out in seconds as NECA’s TMNT product remains extremely hot. Because of that, this set is not the easiest in the world to find, but it can be done. I’m just a blogger so my toys come from the store just like everyone else and I was able to find a set, so don’t despair if you don’t find one right away. And NECA is certain to keep producing these and I definitely expect at least a Casey re-release some day now that Elias Koteas is onboard. And above all, network with folks, make friends in the collecting community, and don’t feed the scalpers! Good luck!


Donald Duck Turns 86!

It’s June 9, and that means I can’t let the day go by without acknowledging that it is the birthday of my favorite animated character: Donald Duck. Donald Duck debuted in the 1934 short The Wise Little Hen and it wasn’t long before he joined Mickey and the gang becoming one of the most popular characters in the world. The past few years, I’ve marked the occasion with a post about one of the four Walt Disney Treasures releases of The Chronological Donald Duck. Well, I’ve run out of them! I’ve shared my thoughts on all four volumes now, so this year I’m giving you a quick post about some of the Donald Duck merchandise I’ve acquired over the past year.

Now it should be said, the best way to celebrate Donald Duck these days is via Disney+. Not to sound like a commercial, but Disney+ is the most convenient way to get your Donald fix as there are a handful of classic shorts, movies that feature Donald, episodes of Disneyland also featuring Donald, and even an exclusive series definitely worth watching called Legend of the Three Caballeros. To celebrate Donald’s birthday, Disney even added a Donald Duck section to Disney+ to make it easier to find stuff featuring everyone’s favorite waterfowl. It was long overdue too, as finding Donald shorts was a pain on the platform.

Everyone in my family knows I’m nuts for that duck, so Donald themed gifts are an easy way to my heart. The only challenge is getting to them before I do. This clock I keep on my nightstand is something I bought for me, and I actually bought it nearly 10 years ago so unlike everything else this one is not from the past year. I just felt it was worth sharing. It’s a sculpture featuring the classic black and white Donald from 1934 alongside a more modern Donald. It was commissioned to celebrate his 65th birthday and the actual clock is a pocket watch which is removable. It even came with a thick, gold colored, chain if you wish to sport it as a traditional pocket watch. I have only done so on one such occasion: my wedding. You’re damn right I was repping Donald on my wedding day.

This key-shaped ornament is something I acquired a year to the day. It was an item sold on Donald’s birthday last year in celebration of his 85th birthday. Some other merch was available too, like pins, but I’ve resisted the temptation to become a Disney pin collector. These keys are something the Disney Store turns to often to get people into the store. Basically, they’re first come, first serve and you have to buy them. I don’t remember what it cost, but apparently Disney collectors love them as there was a huge line before opening the day these came out by me. I was almost in trouble too as my kids had seen the advertisement for this thing ahead of time and I told them, “Sure, we’ll go get the special Donald key.” When we arrived to see that line I had to start preparing them for the possibility we might get shut out. We were fortunate though and managed to receive one of the last ones and it’s hung on my wall ever since.

These slippers were a Christmas gift from my wife and kids last year. They’re by a company called Happy Feet, and I liked them so much that I got my wife some for Valentine’s Day (Santa also brought some for my kids). Happy Feet makes two styles of slippers: big, puffy, character head ones like these, and also a zipper slipper that’s a more conventional slipper shape, but has a removable toe section. They’re called Zlipperz and they’re pretty neat. They do have Donald ones and I may have to grab a pair of those eventually to pair with these. These ones are super comfortable, though with the weather heating up I’m wearing them less and less. I’m sure they’ll wait patiently for me to turn to them this Fall when the weather cools.

Lastly, how about some Christmas in July June? These are some ornaments that were released for Christmas 2019 and if you read this blog regularly you know how I feel about Christmas. The one on the left is a traditional globe-styled ornament in a heavy-duty box. The ornament features redrawn images from the classic Christmas short Toy Tinkers starring Donald Duck alongside Chip and Dale. The middle ornament is a tin lunchbox with artwork from the latest edition of DuckTales adorning it. It opens to reveal a tiny thermos as well. Donald is featured on both the lunch box and the thermos and both also have a little eyelet to attach a hook to hang from a tree. It has yet to hang from one of my trees though as I actually got this after the holidays when it was on sale (FYI – right now is prime Christmas ornament buying season as Hallmark makes room for the coming year). And on the right, we have another commemorative ornament celebrating Donald’s 85th birthday. It’s double-sided with one side featuring a sculpture of a black and white Donald and the other featuring a modern interpretation. A circular medallion featuring the number 85 is affixed to the string from which it’s supposed to hang. Beware though, this sucker is pretty heavy for an ornament and can tumble easily from a Christmas tree.

That’s but a small piece of the Donald Duck collection in my home. It’s a collection I’m always looking to add to so hopefully 2020 brings more Donald my way. The next big year for Donald will probably be 2024 when he turns 90 and I expect there to be a whole bunch of new items then. And at that point we can begin the countdown to Donald’s 100th. I’m already saving now as I need to be at a Disney park for that one!


The Iron Giant (1999)

220px-The_Iron_Giant_posterDirector Brad Bird has become quite a name in the world of film. He is most commonly associated with Pixar where he directed much celebrated films like Ratatouille and both entries in The Incredibles. Prior to that, he was mostly known for his work as an animator and director on The Simpsons. His directorial debut with the long-running franchise was the Season One highlight “Krusty Gets Busted” and he also contributed to the much loved “22 Short Films About Springfield.” It was his work as an animator with Klasky Csupo that got him his gig with both The Simpsons and The Tracey Ullman Show, where The Simpsons originated. And he probably ended up there largely because of  his work with Disney where he was a promising young animator in the 80s seemingly destined for great things with the company.

That did not happen, and perhaps it’s for the better considering all of the quality television and films we received as a result. And while those works are much celebrated, there are still many who feel Brad Bird’s finest contribution to the world of cinema is the 1999 box-office flop The Iron Giant.

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The Iron Giant is the film directorial debut for Brad Bird.

The Iron Giant originated in a short story by poet Ted Hughes, who unfortunately passed away before the film was completed. It was a tale that captivated many who encountered it and even attracted the attention of famed musician Pete Townshend who crafted an entire concept album about the character. As a result, the story was ticketed for a musical release much in the style of many animated 90s projects, but when Brad Bird was hired to oversee it things changed. It was Bird who reimagined the story as one about a gun with a soul that decides it doesn’t actually want to be an instrument of death. This was partly the result of Bird’s sister Susan tragically being murdered during the film’s production. Warner Bros. also brought in Tim McCanlies to co-author the screenplay and the musical components were eventually dropped, though Townshend still received an executive producer credit.

The Iron Giant is a traditionally animated film which also features some CG elements, most notably the giant itself. The film is about a young boy named Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) who lives alone with his mother in a small coastal town in the state of Maine during the 1950s. Cold War paranoia is sweeping the country and is the framing device for the film. When a mysterious, 100-foot tall, robot crash lands nearby, it’s Hogarth who first finds him and befriends him. Through Hogarth, this massive robot (Vin Diesel) learns empathy and also receives a primer on life and death. The somewhat lonely Hogarth views the giant like an ultimate toy, but also comes to view the behemoth as a friend as well.

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It’s the tale of a boy and his big ass robot.

Now, 100-foot tall robots naturally attract attention. When the giant first arrives on Earth, it inadvertently causes a ship to crash and the captain of that ship alerts the FBI. The government dispatches agent Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald) to investigate and he is able to follow a series of clues, as well as some coincidence, to the home of the Hughes. It’s there Kent realizes Hogarth knows something, and he rents a room from Hogarth’s mother (Jennifer Aniston) to keep an eye on the lad while also hoping to earn his trust and in turn uncover the truth about this giant being that’s eating the community’s metal. In turn, Hogarth has to try and keep the secret of the giant hidden and he turns to a local beatnik artist named Dean McCoppin (Harry Connick Jr.) for help since he happens to run the local scrap metal yard.

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Mansley is so obsessed with his job that it allows him to be more of a comedic element early on in the film, but he eventually turns quite sinister.

The film contains plenty of elements of comedy and drama as the tale unfolds. Hogarth and the giant have to learn how to communicate with each other since the giant doesn’t understand English initially. There’s also a lot of physical comedy bits between Hogarth and Kent as Hogarth tries to keep his friend hidden and finds creative ways to get Kent off his back. Probably the best piece of comedy occurs when the giant’s hand, having been separated from the robot via a collision with a train, stumbles into Hogarth’s home during dinner in search of the rest of his body. Hogarth is then forced to go to great lengths to keep the mechanical monstrosity from his mother, and eventually Kent, before rejoining it with the rest of the giant.

The latter part of the film loses the comedy in favor of more dramatic story-telling. The central theme of the film is you are what you choose to be, and it’s an important thing for the giant to learn as the robot is equipped with some serious firepower. This is discovered when Hogarth accidentally trips an automated defense mechanism in the robot, and it’s further exacerbated when the army eventually learns about the robot’s existence (because it has to). It’s a rather simple message, but one that easily resonates with an audience which is partly why the film is so beloved. The pairing of a kid with a being not of this world will naturally draw comparisons to E.T. and it’s an apt comparison. The only thing really separating the character of E.T. from the giant is that E.T. largely remains a passivist during his story while the giant most certainly does not.

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It’s a real joy to watch the film play with scale. Here, the giant has to literally squat down to fit in the same frame as Hogarth.

What the film chooses to leave out is the giant’s backstory. We don’t know why he’s here, or where he came from. Both are questions viewers are likely to ponder, but in the grand scheme they mean little just as it didn’t matter why E.T. was on Earth. We also don’t know much about Hogarth and how his life was before the events of the film, save for the fact that he appears to be a good student and a latchkey kid with few friends. And like the giant, it doesn’t matter and Bird was wise to ignore these details because it keeps the film at a quite tidy 87 minutes. Perhaps my biggest criticism of The Incredibles and its sequel is that they’re both just too damn long, so it’s nice to watch a Brad Bird feature that’s under 90 minutes.

The film is set in 1950s Maine partly to invoke images of Norman Rockwell. The choice is an excellent one as the town of Rockwell presented here is quite idyllic and cozy. The woodland scenery is especially gorgeous and lush and the human characters have a style to them that is not derivative of past Warner films or Disney. The giant is animated in CG largely because it was an easy way to keep his steel frame natural and consistent. He has a simple design to him and the texture work is kept fairly simple as well which helps to blend the giant with the hand-drawn visuals that surround it. He doesn’t stand out in an unnatural way, at least he doesn’t as much as a 100-foot tall robot can, and the choice to render the being this way appears to be a sound one as a result.

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The film’s central message is you are what you choose to be. For the giant, that’s Superman.

Michael Kamen is responsible for the film’s score and it’s scope is quite grand and appropriate. When the giant takes to the sky for the first time it’s exuberant and triumphant, and when it needs to be a bit melancholy it strikes the right tone. The film completely discarded its musical origins, save for an in-universe PSA about the duck and cover advice you’ve probably heard about that existed back in the 50s. The voice cast is tremendous and Eli Marienthal as Hogarth is especially deserving of praise given his young age at the time of recording. Aniston and Connick Jr. are perfectly capable in their roles, while McDonald toes the line of obsessive detective and parody rather adeptly in his portrayal of Kent Mansley. Diesel isn’t asked to do much as the giant, similar to his eventual role as Groot for Guardians of the Galaxy, but he does a good job when the scenes later in the film ask more of him. If your eyes don’t well up a bit when you hear him say “Superman” during the film’s climax then you have no soul.

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The film finally received a Blu Ray release in 2016 which also included two minutes of new footage. It was dubbed The Signature Edition.

The Iron Giant is a heartwarming tale about an outcast finding its purpose in life all on its own, even if that purpose strays from what others had earmarked it for. It’s also a tale of friendship and empathy, of right and wrong, and one about being mindful and trusting where appropriate. It’s easy to react to a creature such as the giant with fear, but maybe it’s best to give others a chance first and allow them to give one a reason to fear them beyond simply appearance. It’s also a gorgeously animated film and one of the last of its kind as it wasn’t long after the release of The Iron Giant that the majority of animated features switched over entirely to 3D, CG, animated stories. Most acknowledge now that the reason this film failed at the box office was due to Warner Bros. not marketing it well. Even though it seems many agree with that assessment, it didn’t stop studios like Warner from using commercial failures like The Iron Giant as justification for moving away from traditionally animated films. It’s unfortunate as I fear we as a society will soon lose the ability to create such wonders simply because Hollywood isn’t providing a reason for those to learn these skills. If that’s the case, at least we’ll always have wonders like The Iron Giant to look back on.


Onward (2020)

onward_tease2020 is probably going to be remembered for a lot of things, as most years are, but it’s hard to imagine it being more remembered for anything other than Covid-19, aka coronavirus. The global pandemic has shuttered businesses, cost people their jobs (and lives), while turning us all into hermits. Social distancing is a phrase we’ve all learned and are unlikely to forget. And as we move beyond this era which will hopefully end in a return to normalcy, there will be things forever associated with this period in time and one of those items forever linked to Covid-19 is the Pixar animated feature Onward.

Onward was wide-released on March 6, 2020. Roughly two weeks later, the film industry came to a screeching halt. Even when the film opened, some were already staying away from crowded places before many states in the US started forcing closures of non-essential businesses. As a result, Onward became Pixar’s lowest grossing movie through no fault of its own. As of this writing, it’s estimated to have earned a little over 100 million dollars. With no end in sight to the current climate, Disney saw no reason to keep it in theaters. Disney decided to make the best of the current situation and quickly pivoted Onward to digital using it as a lure to get more subscribers to its relatively new streaming service Disney+. Patrons could pay to rent the film digitally on March 20, or wait for it to arrive on Disney+ on April 4, less than a month after its theatrical release. Because it’s so new and people are forced to stay at home, it’s possible more eyeballs will be trained on this film than some other recent Pixar fare because it’s quite a novelty to have a brand new Pixar feature so readily available.

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Brothers and Ian and Barely are going on a quest to resurrect their father and maybe learn a thing or two about each other.

Onward is a buddy comedy starring two brothers, Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt), who embark on a “quest” to restore their late father to life for one day. The hook of the feature is that it’s set in a modern-day fantasy world. The premise is essentially what would a classic fantasy world have evolved into once things like electricity were discovered? The answer seems to be that magic was largely abandoned in favor of modern technology which advanced largely in step with our world. The main difference is that elves and orcs live side-by-side and some never found better housing than hollowed out giant mushrooms. The film was conceived by director Dan Scanlon who shares a similar backstory to the central characters here in that he and his brother lost their dad at a young age. Jason Headley and Keith Bunin were brought on to refine the screenplay and the story centers on the brother protagonists and explores their relationship with each other.

Ian is the more central figure of the story. He’s about to turn 16 and is a shy individual with few friends. Barley, his older brother, is more boisterous and in-love with the world’s fantastical history. He’s also a bit of an activist, as he sometimes clashes with their mother’s (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) police officer boyfriend (a centaur voiced by Mel Rodriguez) when he stands in the way of demolition crews looking to tare down old world relics. When their mother was pregnant with Ian, and Barely was quite young, their father passed away after suffering an illness. With Ian coming to age though, their mother presents them with a gift their father left for them and it turns out to be a magic staff with instructions how to bring their father back for one day. Ian sees this as a way to finally meet the man he only knows through pictures and an audio recording. When the spell goes wrong though, the boys are forced to seek out a new source of magic which takes them on a road trip. Barley, being a history buff, is excited to embark on what he considers a quest while Ian just wants to get it done and over with as quickly as possible so they have the maximum amount of time available to them to spend with their dad.

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An early, quiet, moment where Ian listens to a recording of his dad he’s probably played a thousand times.

The film is largely a comedy with some fantastic set pieces and visual moments. The humor is derived from both physical comedy and conventional gags. The film mostly puts the visual gags of introducing fantasy creatures into suburbia upfront freeing it to be more creative as the film rolls along. It’s genuinely funny, though like the best Pixar features it relies more on heart and characters. Barley, being the excitable one, is often impulsive which clashes with Ian’s cautious approach. Barley would rather follow his gut while Ian wants to stick to a map the two find early on. The two need each other though, for it turns out Ian has an aptitude for magic and is able to make use of their father’s staff and the spells in Barley’s possession normally relegated to a Dungeons & Dragons type of game. And Ian needs Barley’s help because he can do practical things like drive. There are natural moments of conflict that can arise from this situation, and it’s easy to see these moments coming as Ian largely keeps quiet and defers to Barley, but you know he’s simmering on the inside at times. The film is a bit of a disguised film about what it means to be brothers. It seems to want viewers to think of it as a father-son pic at the onset, before pivoting to this brotherhood theme.

As someone who grew up reading lots of fantasy books, I welcome this setting and premise of Onward. Ian’s magical staff starts off rather neat, but it does threaten to become a crutch in order to advance the plot. The boys often run into an obstacle with the answer to such being a new spell for Ian to try out that Barley suggests. The film does at least utilize this arrangement to force the characters to learn how to work together. Initially, Barely’s suggestions on spells will be met with doubt from Ian with the miscasts even affecting Barley in a negative fashion. Ian will have to learn to trust his brother’s knowledge of the arcane, as well as his own abilities, in order to actually wield it effectively. It still ends up functioning as a deus ex machina, for the most part, but at least there’s the added goal of bringing the two characters closer.

ONWARD

Barley’s enthusiasm for history, which for this world is basically Dungeons & Dragons, is a source of embarrassment for brother Ian.

Because the film does deal with death in some way, it naturally lends itself to comparisons to Coco (and I suspect the upcoming film Soul will as well). It’s a bit unfortunate as Coco is quite possibly the best film Pixar has ever produced, it’s certainly my favorite. And it’s a wonderful film that Onward really can’t match. The plot beats here are pretty easy to see coming and it’s basically accepted at the outset that this is a film that will try to make you cry come the end. It’s at least more sincere and focused than a similar Pixar flick The Good Dinosaur. Where that film felt manipulative at times, this one does a better job of being sincere and earning its watery moments. Some viewers might feel conflicted about the ending, but it’s at least the one moment where the film does wander off the formula a touch. It’s accepted that things won’t go perfectly for Ian and Barley in their quest to be reunited with their father, but that also won’t stop viewers from yearning for that outcome.

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Corey and Laurel could have been an interesting pair for the film’s B-plot, but it doesn’t really find anything unique for them to do.

Ian and Barley’s adventure is the main focus of the film, and it’s smart to do so. There are some solid side characters, but they have a hard time taking our focus away from Ian and Barley. The main side plot involves their mother , Laurel, who pairs up with a manticore named Corey (Octavia Spencer), who happens to know where the brothers are heading and, more importantly, knows they’re about to unleash a curse upon the world. The two are in a race to stop them, but we mostly know how that will play out based on similar stories. The brothers also have a couple of brushes with the law, but that’s mostly resolved fairly quickly before the film can get all Smokey and the Bandit on us. Mostly when the film was away from the brothers I just wanted to get back to them. I understand it needs to show us what’s happening elsewhere so the eventual meet-up between all of the characters is earned, but it wasn’t as fun as it could have been. Which is a shame, because the characters of Laurel and Corey have chemistry together and I think there was room for them in the film, but they just weren’t able to find it.

Mychael and Jeff Danna handled the film’s score and it’s not afraid to lean into that fantasy setting vibe. There’s also an original song over the ending credits performed by Brandi Carlile. The score is mostly fine, though I was disappointed with it in some areas. It doesn’t take many chances to meld the fantasy with modern sounds. When it goes for a gag in which Barley selects some questing music it also falls flat. Maybe they originally intended to license something, but instead it’s just bland synth-rock when I was looking for something bombastic akin to Rhapsody of Fire.

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There’s magic to be found in this world, but the film doesn’t rely on it for visual spectacles too much.

Onward is a film rescued by its heart. It has a solid premise for a story and finds a way to arrive at a clever conclusion, even if the plot beats to get there feel very familiar. I think it could have done more with its setting. The idea is there, and some of the gags are well-played, but the whole thing feels surprisingly underplayed both visually and in the score. The actual technical abilities of the film also are not wow-inducing. Pixar is somewhat harmed by its own legacy in that respect since we’re so used to the studio raising the bar, but instead Onward is just comfortably fine. It does save its best piece of technical art for the end, which is a logical move, but it’s also not the type of visual you’ll walk away from saying “You have got to see this!” The relationship of brothers Ian and Barely though is what makes the film, and it’s not afraid to lean on the two. Pratt and Holland are both charismatic and believable in their roles and the characters are handled with grace. It’s hard for the audience to side with one over the other. They’re both right in some places, and weak in others. It’s easy to relate to both and thus hard to even pick a favorite.

It should also go without saying that the focus of the film on loss is easy to relate to. We either are that someone or know someone who has lost their father. Many can even relate to Ian as someone who never knew a parent due to tragedy. It’s a very compelling plot device to ask an audience what they would do in order to have one more day with someone they love. As a result, it’s almost impossible to separate this film from real world examples. If the film dwelled on that too much it would have felt manipulative, but instead it presents the premise and then lets it mostly simmer on the back burner. Because that sense of loss is such a personal thing, I suspect this movie will appeal more to people willing to allow themselves to “go there” and be vulnerable for 100 minutes or so. I would say Onward will be among the most polarizing for Pixar, but I think that’s too strong a word. There will be some who cite this as their new favorite from the studio, but few will number it among the worst. I think the divide will largely fall on the line of those who consider it great, and those who found it entertaining.

I lean more towards the latter, as I think the film offers a totally worthwhile and enjoyable experience, but it won’t be threatening to dethrone the likes of Coco and Finding Nemo for me. And in many ways I don’t think my opinion matters. Onward feels like a movie made by Dan Scanlon (and other talented people) for Dan Scanlon to process and deal with the tragedy in his past. He wasn’t able to wield a magical staff, but hopefully he and his brother were able to arrive at a similar place to Ian and Barley. And ultimately, I hope Onward ended up being the movie he wanted to make.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze

turtlesIICowabunga dudes, it’s the 30th anniversary of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie! On March 30, 1990, New Line Cinema together with Golden Harvest released a film to theaters that seemingly no one wanted to make. This isn’t that surprising considering when Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird first started soliciting offers for a toy-line based on their comic book property there were also few takers. Still, considering how successful the cartoon and toys had become, one would think studios would have learned a lesson from the likes of Mattel and Hasbro in not passing on the property, but the Turtles concept was so uniquely weird that many just weren’t able to accept it as a bonafide franchise.

The Turtles originated in the pages of Mirage comics, but it was the cartoon that really catapulted the franchise to the heights it eventually reached. Despite that, the original film was a nice olive branch to those who first fell in love with the property as a comic. That first film took very little from the cartoon, basically just the colored masks, April’s profession, and an affinity for pizza, and took far more from the comic. The basic plot was lifted almost directly from that source material with just a few changes. The end result was a tonally dark film as the Turtles dwelled in the murky sewers of New York City and did most of their fighting at night. It was also probably a practical choice to obscure the costumes and puppets (in the case of Splinter) a bit to maintain realism. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop was brought in to create those wonderful suits and the film holds up pretty well for what it is even today.

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Grab your pizza and pork rinds and celebrate – the first TMNT movie is turning 30!

The only problem I have with that first film is that I already reviewed it on this blog years ago. With no new media based on the film to talk about here, I’m forced to get a bit creative with my celebration of that film and instead turn to the 1991 sequel. Incredibly, New Line was able to fast track a sequel and have it land in theaters on March 22, 1991 –  just days before the first film turned 1! It’s basically another instance of the powers that be having misgivings about the franchise. Everyone assumed the property was a fad and would die out quickly. And while Turtle-mania did probably peak in 1990, it certainly wasn’t dead come 91 and the original cartoon series wouldn’t air its season finale until 1996. Part of the reason the sequel was fast-tracked is because of how few believed in the first film. Even Playmates, holder of the master toy license and party responsible for the creation of the cartoon, passed on creating toys for that film assuming it would bomb. There wasn’t a ton of marketing tie-ins for that film, and even TMNT branded Pork Rinds (as seen in the film) arrived well after the film premiered.

A sequel was basically a way to course-correct for those poor decisions leading up to that first film. The quick turn-around though meant some actors weren’t available for the sequel, and some didn’t return for other reasons. The Casey Jones character was not brought back, though he did return in the sequel to this one. Judith Hoag was also recast as April O’Neil with Paige Turco. It is alleged that Hoag had made a fuss on set of the first film in defense of the stunt actors and that was partly to blame. Since this film has a different director, it could just be he wanted to cast an actress that more resembled the character in the cartoon (something that will impact other areas of the film). Robbie Rist and Brian Tochi return as the voices of Michelangelo and Leonardo, respectively, while Raphael (Laurie Faso) and Donatello (Adam Carl) were recast. Ernie Reyes Jr, a stunt double for Donatello on the first film, impressed the producers enough to get a role in the sequel as a proper actor playing the pizza deliveryman Keno, who understandably crosses paths with the Turtles. Shredder was also recast, now played by Francois Chao and voiced by David McCharen. Kevin Clash is also back as the voice and puppeteer on Splinter.

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Paige Turco hopefully got a nice pay day for this thing.

Director Michael Pressman sought, either on his own or at the urging of other parties, to make this film resemble the cartoon more than the first film had. As a result, co-creators Eastman and Laird had little input on the film. They wanted to continue the story began in Mirage Comics and bring in the scientist Baxter Stockman and have the secret of the ooze match-up with the comic in being alien in origin. Pressman and others apparently disagreed and pretty much the only thing it appears Eastman and Laird got away with was keeping specific elements of the cartoon, such as Bebop and Rocksteady, out. The film downplayed the dark and grime and removed almost all of the violence in favor of slapstick. The Turtles basically never utilize their weapons outside of the opening fight scene, and even there they barely use them. Michelangelo would rather pop bad guys with a yo-yo and sausage links, swung around like nunchaku, and just generally act goofy. Most of the scenes are also brightly lit, and while there’s some conflict between brothers Leo and Raph, it’s hastily done and the stakes feel smaller as Raph no longer comes across as a troubled soul.

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Shredder is back and he’s got mutants of his own this time.

For the plot of the film, Pressman and writer Todd Langden take the picture to a pretty logical place. After being dispatched at the end of the first film, Shredder returns rising from a landfill where he was apparently dumped (the NYPD and Sanitation Commission apparently unknowingly dumped a body left in a garbage truck) and has setup shop in a junkyard. His motivation is now simply revenge, but he needs help. For that, he turns to TGRI, the company responsible for creating the ooze that turned four baby turtles and their caretaker rat into the beings we know and love today. He kidnaps TGRI scientist Professor Jordan Perry (David Warner) to enlist him in creating super mutants of his known, settling on a wolf and a snapping turtle he’ll name Rahzar and Tokka (both voiced by Frank Welker), respectively.

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Donnie had some reconstructive beak surgery between films.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be forced to deal with Shredder and his new minions, as well as the remnants of the Foot Clan. Adding to the drama is their search for a new home, having been cooped up in April’s swanky new apartment since the events of the first film. It’s a straight-forward plot that does fine with its modest 88 minute running time. Fans likely expected Shredder to return, as he always does in the cartoon, and while they probably wanted to see Bebop and Rocksteady it wasn’t a surprise to see surrogates in their place. Tokka and Rahzar are surprisingly even dumber than the warthog and rhino as they’re barely intelligible, but balance that out with impressive strength. I know some fans to this day are disappointed the proper duo wasn’t realized here, it’s hard to argue with the end result though as Jim Henson’s Creature Shop did an amazing job with both characters.

Henson’s Creature Shop is actually the film’s greatest strength. The Turtles were all re-tooled between films and remain plenty convincing. Michelangelo is basically the only one of the four that looks almost identical to the costume in the first film, as he had expressive eyes in that film while the other three seemed to have their eyes obscured by their masks. Now all four have a more approachable appearance and there’s definitely less grit here. Donatello is the one that looks the most different as his head-shape is completely different. I don’t know why this is the case, but he also feels like the character changed the most in general from film-to-film, possibly to de-emphasize the performance of Corey Feldman or maybe just to nerd him up to bring him more in-line with the cartoon. Shredder’s costume also looks great, and the big surprise at the end (yeah, you probably know what that surprise is, but I’ll still retain some mystery for a 29 year-old film review) also looks pretty great.

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The Turtles would rather fight with toys than weapons this time around. In the film’s defense though, I thought Mikey’s yo-yo routine was hilarious when I was 8.

Sadly, other than the costumes there isn’t much to like about this film. The script has been punched-up to be far more jokey and all-together less serious. Unfortunately, the script seems to think little of its audience and the jokes barely please 8-year-olds. The only true laugh in this film is one line by Mikey in the junkyard when they first spot the individual they’re looking for. Again, I’m not spoiling anything here. Otherwise, everything else is stupid and predictable. The fight choreography, apparently partly owing to the fact that the new masks had even worse visibility than the originals, is abysmal. The bad guys just stand around to get punched or kicked or hit with some jokey object and the Turtles basically never get hurt. Some complained the first film was too violent, but at least it showed the consequences of that violence. This film does not.

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David Warner is one of the newcomers for the sequel.

This is also the type of film one watches and just feels bad for the actors involved. David Warner does his best with what he’s given, and he’s actually game for some of the corniness of the script. Turco unfortunately has less to work with while the April character is firmly placed in the backseat for this one. The Keno character feels like an audience surrogate. He’s a teen, but possesses enough child-like enthusiasm to potentially allow kids to relate to him. He’s given some of the worst lines in the film, but again, I can’t really fault the performance of Reyes Jr. for my dislike of Keno. To perhaps no surprise, Keno has never resurfaced in any other media based on this franchise.

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Yes, this really happened in 1991.

I liked Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II as a kid, and that’s the only audience the movie cared about. I liked seeing my favorite heroes back in a live-action setting, and seeing the new mutants was a trip. I even liked the “Ninja Rap” and I actually have some affection for that even to this day as it’s the moment the movie just says “Screw it, this is what this film is about,” as it embraces it’s corn-ball nature. And the costumes are great, but just about everything else is dumb. All of the things I liked and still enjoy in the original film aren’t here, aside from the costumes. None of the questions that film left open at its conclusion are even addressed here. We don’t know what happened between April and Casey, and we never really get a rematch between Turtles and Shredder. It’s a shame, as the costumed actors (Michelin Sisti, Mark Caso, Kenn Scott, Leif Tilden as the four turtles) are still asked to do some pretty impressive stuff considering all of the gear they’re wearing, but not in a visually interesting manner. As a result, I cannot recommend this movie unless you’ve watched the first film so many times that you’re just desperate to watch something different. Though I hope you will have sense enough to stop here and not go onto the third film.

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“You mean, you don’t like us anymore, dude?”

If you want to watch this film or its much better predecessor (and you should watch that if you’re reading this on the date of publication) you can find all of the original films on Netflix. They’re also available on DVD and Blu Ray and should be quite affordable.


Verotika (2019)

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Verotika (2019)

Say what you will about the various art Glenn Danzig has released to the public, but the man should be admired for doing what he wants with said art. At a young age, Danzig decided he wanted to be a musician and for over 40 years he’s been committed to that industry. Along the way he’s taken risks, both creatively and commercially, and some have worked out well financially and some have not. Always though, he’s stayed true to his own vision and rarely does it feel like he’s ever compromised that vision.

In the mid-90s, Danzig decided he had other pursuits he wanted to undertake. He launched his own comic book publishing company and named it Verotik. Verotik specialized in horror and hyper sexualized stories that the main publishers in the world of comics would never touch. Around the same time, he also started poking around the world of Hollywood eventually taking a small role in the film The Prophecy II in which he was almost comically dispatched of in a few seconds of screen time. It was also around this time he was boasting about being sought for the role of Wolverine in a future X-Men film, though how serious such overtures were at the time are unknown.

For who knows how long, Danzig has wanted to climb into the director’s chair and oversee the creation of his own film. In 2019, that dream came true. And true to Danzig’s musical legacy, his film is undoubtedly uncompromised and the film Glenn Danzig wanted to make. Verotika is a horror anthology film based on properties launched by Danzig’s comic line. Some of the stories are more or less taken right from the page and adapted for the big screen. In creating the film, Danzig formed a partnership with Cleopatra Entertainment in what looks to be a multi-film deal. The movie was released in June of 2019 in very limited amounts, basically just special screenings attended by Danzig himself in high profile markets like LA and New York.

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Glenn Danzig steps off the stage and into the director’s chair and appears to be pretty happy with the end result.

Verotika was never screened in a city near me so I never had to make the perhaps difficult decision of whether or not to attend. The film has been nearly universally panned by critics with the often repeated comparison being that this is The Room of horror films. That doesn’t mean all of the reviews have been necessarily negative. Some expressed that film is not good, but it’s charmingly bad in ways that some of the most awesomely bad movies are. The film is low budget and full of the sex and violence that appeals to Danzig. The cast is populated by trained actors and actresses as well as veterans of the adult film industry, so I think anyone familiar with Danzig’s work likely has a good idea of what kind of experience they’re in for.

As a longtime fan of Glenn Danzig’s music, I felt like I basically owed it to myself to watch this film. I love the music of Danzig, but my fandom has largely ended there. What little of Verotik I thumbed through rarely appealed to me. Danzig’s directorial efforts with his music videos are mostly bad, and I basically assumed that I am going to dislike this film. Maybe I’ll be able to laugh at it, but I don’t know. I’m not the type of person that enjoys watching bad movies typically. At least with Verotika I’m signing up for an anthology that totals just 90 minutes, so it’s not a huge investment of time and there is a built in mechanism to reset my attention span. And even though I have in some ways dreaded viewing this film, I know my curiosity is too much to ignore so when the film went up for pre-order on Amazon I placed my order and waited.

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Fans of the Verotik comics will likely get a thrill out of seeing these characters come to life on the big screen. Here we have Morella played by Kayden Kross.

Verotika arrived and alongside it came an unexpected surprise. The physical release for the film is the standard Blu Ray and DVD combo, but it also includes a CD soundtrack as well which is pretty cool. It’s not a particularly great soundtrack, and the only Danzig track is the previously released “Eyes Ripping Fire,” but it’s still a nice gesture. The soundtrack is also available separately on vinyl, for interested parties. I settled into watch this one, and since it is an anthology film, it presents nice opportunities for breaks during the feature. There are three segments and they are:  The Albino Spider of Dajette, Change of Face, and Drukija:  Contessa of Blood. There’s a framing device in-between them all hosted by Morella (Kayden Kross) in a Vampira-like role as she introduces the macabre to come while some hapless girl (Noelle Ann Mabry, with possibly the best performance of the entire film) is tortured.

Women being victimized by other women seems to be the name of the game in this film. All three stories feature that in some capacity, though in the first segment the woman, Dajette (Ashley Wisdom), is inadvertently harming women. I was prepared for a lot of things when I sat down to watch this. I knew there would be gore, I expected plenty of nude women, and I also anticipated some unintentional comedy on account of the fact that this is a relatively low budget film. What I did not anticipate was boredom. Yes, Verotika is a bad movie, but as far as awesomely bad is concerned I’m not sure I’d classify this as such. There’s a lot of bad acting, and what’s not helping the actors out is the need to utilize accents in two of the three segments. The script is poor and at times laughable, but not gratuitously so. It’s a just a lot of wooden scenes surrounded by poor lighting, hollow audio, and irrational editing. There’s even a shot where a corpse blinks and it’s confusing how something like that makes it into the final cut of any film.

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Dajette and the spider that haunts her.

The three stories ask very little of the audience. Only the first felt the least bit ambitious as it concerns a woman, who when sleeps unleashes some sort of spider-demon on the populace. The spider wants to mate and kill in that order, and our protagonist needs to come up with a way to stop it. The segment relies way too much on actress Ashley Wisdom who is not up to task. The spider (Scotch Hopkins) does better, but the script gives him little to work with. He’s also burdened by some ambitious prosthetics that really aren’t all that bad, but could have been helped out with better lighting choices.

That segment might actually be the most narratively sound as the other two leave a lot to be desired. “Change of Face” follows the not very mysterious Mystery Girl (Rachel Alig) as she goes around cutting the faces off of young women and then masquerading as a stripper during the night. A detective pursues her, but is laughably played by Sean Kanan and hard to take serious. This segment features the most padding as on three occasions it resorts to extended segments of strippers performing their routine in a rather mundane fashion. Verotika would actually disappoint in the titillation department if stumbled upon at two AM on Cinemax.

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Verotika is not particularly gory, but it does bring the blood by the tub-full.

The third segment is even more droll as it casts Alice Tate (who performs quite well under the circumstances) as Drukija, an Elizabeth Bathory type who poaches young girls from a village to bathe in their blood. She one-ups the countess by also feasting on the heart of a young girl. The story has no pay-off and is more of a fetish as we watch Drukija murder several young women. It takes place in a medieval setting so the costumes are a bit interesting and her ceremonial bathing apparatus is certainly a sight to see, but it offers little else.

Verotika is neither sexy, nor particularly gory. There is a lot of blood in some scenes, but the most gratuitous probably occurs during the film’s opening minutes. The film is not thought-provoking and it isn’t interested in exploring much of anything. And at 90 minutes it overstays its welcome by a lot. It’s hard to even pick which segment is the superior one. The concept of the spider is the most complex, while the “Change of Face” segment is the most procedurally ambitious as it attempts to present a murder-mystery thriller, but it really just exposes the weakness of the talent on hand. I guess the third is the best by default since it’s at least visually interesting and presents a decent premise. It just doesn’t move beyond its premise and could easily have been half as long. Or better yet, it could have just been a music video.

Glenn Danzig not only wrote and directed this picture, but he also provided the score. If you’re familiar with his Black Aria albums then it should sound mostly familiar. There are a few moments where I liked what I was hearing, but for the most part it’s forgettable. The licensed tracks are largely reserved for the stripper scenes, and in that respect they work fine. They’re not particularly sexy, but it’s not like Danzig was going to pay Rick Rubin to utilize “She Rides.”

Obviously I did not enjoy my time with Verotika. That doesn’t change what I started off with though. This is a film made by Glenn Danzig for Glenn Danzig. He’s gone around the country and personally shown this film to audiences and he appears to be quite proud of it. I can only assume that this is the film he wanted to make. And that is great. I wish I could put myself in position to pursue my own art in such a fashion, so even though I didn’t enjoy it I still applaud the man for the film he created. There’s just no way I’m going to seek out his next film.


Dragon Quest: Your Story

dq your storyIn the 1980s, game designer Yuji Horii set out to create a role-playing experience similar to a pen and paper RPG for a video game console. The goal was to blend elements of those experiences with statistical and complex Western PC games like Wizardry and Ultima as the back bone. In order to make it appeal to a Japanese audience, he wanted to infuse it with what he had learned working with manga and add character and story to the equation. The end result of that was Dragon Quest, known for a time as Dragon Warrior in the West. In creating Dragon Quest, Horii gave birth to the genre we know and love as the Japanese Role-Playing Game, or JRPG for short.

Dragon Quest was a cultural phenomenon in Japan when it arrived for the Famicom game system in 1986. Three sequels would follow and all would be brought to the Nintendo Entertainment System in the West. The series never caught on outside of Japan, and the series skipped the Super Nintendo all-together and didn’t return to a global release until Dragon Quest VII on the PlayStation. The series was the flagship title for game developer Enix, who would eventually be acquired by Squaresoft who had found great success with its Dragon Quest clone:  Final Fantasy. Those two franchises have come to define the JRPG genre and are still to this day looked to as being the trend-setter for the genre, which has admittedly sailed past its hey-day.

No matter, for Dragon Quest still has a dedicated and loyal following. And while the somewhat recently released Dragon Quest XI has taken it in a more modern direction, it still seems that the favorite game of the series amongst the fanbase is Dragon Quest V, also known as Dragon Quest V:  Hand of the Heavenly Bride.

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Dragon Quest: Your Story is based on Dragon Quest V which is easily the most beloved entry in the long-running series.

Dragon Quest V, released in 1992 and eventually in North America in 2009, was the first game in the series released on the Super Famicom and also the first to skip North America initially. Like basically every game in the series, the player controls a silent protagonist that they’re allowed to bestow a name upon. They journey with that player on a lengthy quest partaking in turn-based battles that result from random encounters on both a world map or a dungeon sequence. Where Dragon Quest V seems to really distinguish itself though is in the scope of the journey and subversion of expectations. During the course of the game, the player will be faced with a choice of whom to take as a bride and that marriage will result in the birth of twins who eventually join your party as playable characters. There’s also a monster collecting element at play that undoubtedly influenced the Pokémon series in which after defeating a monster some will randomly request to join your party becoming playable as well. The game ends up following the hero from child to adult and players seemed to really enjoy that aspect of the experience as it breads attachment. It’s actually surprising more games haven’t attempted the same.

To celebrate the franchise, Dragon Quest:  Your Story was conceived and released in Japan in 2019. It has just now become available on Netflix outside of Japan. The film adapts Dragon Quest V for the big screen with a CG adventure that takes the viewer through the events of the game basically from start to finish. The film is written and directed by Takashi Yamazaki with additional directing credits going to Ryuichi Yagi and Makoto Hanafusa. Shirogumi Inc was chosen to handle the animation with additional effects done by Robot Communications.

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The film opted to go with CG in place of two-dimensional, hand-drawn, animation.

Fans of Dragon Quest V seemed elated at the thought of the game becoming a feature-length film. Animation is definitely the way to go, though I wonder if many were disappointed to find out it would be a CG animated feature and not a more traditional two-dimensional anime. By including the tagline “Your Story,” it seems the film is also aiming to replicate the RPG experience each player goes through, even if it means this time around the hero needs a name.

Like the video game it is based on, Dragon Quest:  Your Story tells the tale of a hero named Luca (Yuri Lowenthal) who at a young age loses his mother to monsters. Together with his father Pankraz (Parker Simmons), Luca embarks on a mission to retrieve the fabled Zenithian Blade in the hopes that it will help them free their beloved. The blade can only be wielded by the Heavenly Hero, whom Pankraz believes to be his son. Along the way, Pankraz will meet his end forcing Luca to go it alone. Only, he’s not alone and will soon be joined by a sabre cat cub and a curious slime. He has allies in the young prince Harry (Zeno Robinson), scrappy Bianca (Stephanie Sheh) and magical Nera (Xanthe Huynh).

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Yes, we have a slime in this one.

Adapting a roughly 25 hour game to a 103 minute film is certainly a daunting task. Much of those hours in the game are spent grinding away through dungeons and such, but even stripping those away still leaves a lot of ground to cover. As a result, the film can’t really attempt at introducing everything the game throws at the player and basically boils it all down to a few key bullet points. There’s also a liberal dose of montage at work making this film really only accessible for those who played the game. To those who did not it will feel more like an animated summary with no room to breath or to form actual attachments to the characters presented here. This format might actually make it more accessible for younger kids with short attention spans, but older viewers with no familiarity with the brand will probably tune out.

The visuals for the film hold up quite well throughout. Series artist Akira Toriyama was not on-hand for the development of this film, but it’s clear his original art was referenced for the film’s visuals. The sabre cat in particular has a very Toriyama-like appearance as do others. Where the visuals suffer is in the dubbing. Either a direct translation was insisted upon for the English dub or there just wasn’t much attention paid to it because the mouth flaps of the characters rarely sync up naturally. It’s distracting, but this is a film that isn’t exactly dialogue heavy so it’s not as killer as it could have been. There are subtitled options available, and if you’re not averse to reading them it might be the better way to go. Much of the film’s music and sounds were lifted directly from the game, but updated with an actual orchestra where appropriate. It makes the film feel incredibly authentic in its presentation.

Where the film has garnered controversy though lies in its aim. Much of the film up until the climactic battle with the monstrous Bishop Ladja feels like a love letter to Dragon Quest V, but that’s ultimately not the film’s intention. Dragon Quest:  Your Story is aiming a bit higher. It wants to be a celebration of Dragon Quest itself and not just a particular game. Dragon Quest V is merely the chosen vehicle for that delivery. The end contains a twist that is rather high concept. I don’t wish to spoil it, but even if the idea sounded great on paper the execution is a bit awkward. It definitely torpedoes the excitement of the climax adding a layer of complexity onto a story that, up until that point, was anything but.

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Bianca was probably my favorite aspect of the film, though given the rapid-pace of the film she ends up not being featured all that much.

As someone who does not have any particular attachment to Dragon Quest or Dragon Quest V, I can say that the ending did not anger me, though I certainly wasn’t satisfied either. I have played Dragon Quest V, so I was familiar with the story going into this and could follow the film. The ending to the game is possibly the least interesting aspect of it, so changing things up doesn’t bother me on the surface. The execution here is just clumsy, and some of the elements of the ending might have served the film better had they been introduced from the start. This isn’t the type of story that needs or wants a big twist. It doesn’t have enough depth to pull the viewer in and then reap the reward of dumping them on their head. For those unfamiliar with the game, it just feels like a noisy, dumb, fantasy picture that commands little attention. For those who love the source material, they just want to see it to its conclusion likely enjoying the ride well enough while knowing it’s incomplete and only scratches the surface. The film basically spends 90 minutes making fans of the game happy, then the last ten angry.

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Dragon Quest fan groups reacting to the ending.

As a result, Dragon Quest:  Your Story is a film that doesn’t really please anybody. Newcomers will likely find it dry, while longtime fans will be angry with the ending. I suppose Dragon Quest fans that aren’t that enamored with Dragon Quest V might be able to better appreciate what the film was striving for, but I have yet to meet a fan that fits that definition. For me, a casual player of Dragon Quest, I got very little out of this one. The visuals and music are mostly nice, even if I would have preferred a more traditional anime look. The action pieces are dull and the pace of the film is far too quick for any of the emotional beats to land with much impact. I found Luca charming and Bianca especially was charismatic, though she is in maybe 10 minutes of the film as a functioning character, when all is said and done. Dragon Quest:  Your Story is a flawed and ultimately disposable piece of entertainment. It’s ending will give fans something to talk about, which unfortunately is likely to become the film’s legacy rather than as a celebration of a beloved franchise.


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