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For those of you who don’t know, I am now in my Senior Year at the Savannah College of Art and Design, finishing my Bachelors Degree for Film & Television.

Below is a promotional image for my Senior Film Project entitled “Bill & Maggie’s Intergalactic Taxi Service:” a LIVE-ACTION sci-fi/fantasy, steampunk adventure in space; about a young pre-teen girl who struggles to prove herself to her father whilst traversing the galaxy.

The film is inspired by George Melies’ “A Trip to the Moon,” Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Dark Cloud 2 (Dark Chronicle), Wander Over Yonder, Phineas and Ferb, and Kill La Kill.

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This art piece was created by SynDuo of Deviantart as a commission.

http://synduo.deviantart.com/

Most of my crew will be gathered within the Savannah community, but I am on the lookout for Concept Artists and Designers in order to create the look of the film, and to possibly create perks and posters for the upcoming Kickstarter/IndieGogo campaign. This project is still in it’s earliest stages, so that campaign won’t be for another month; but I am working hard to get this film on its way and I am super psyched! =D

If you feel that you could help out in any way with this production, please contact me either at jonleiter@gmail.com, or in the comment section bellow. If you are an artist, please include a link to your portfolio or art gallery.

 

I know this title wasn’t even a consideration for review until I just now re-watched it, but I had totally forgotten how fun this little animated special is.

Robbie the Reindeer: Hooves of Fire is the first installment of a trilogy of half-hour Christmas television specials produced and animated by BBC One between 2001 and 2007. To the uninitiated, this short may look like it was animated by Aardman Entertainment, which is what I used to think. But it turns out that BBC One created this all in house, with the assistance of their partner, Comedy Relief (that’s the company’s name, not the term).

It’s the story of how Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer’s son gets sent off to the North Pole in order to carry on his father’s legacy as the sleigh team’s navigator. But upon arrival, Robbie isn’t the most fit or capable of the bunch, and the jealous and vengeful Blitzen, has it out for Robbie. And Blitzen goes about trying to find ways to either make Robbie leave, or to make him as lazy and unproductive as possible. Blitzen succeeds in convincing Robbie to leave on his own accord, and thinks that all might be well with the world. However, Robbie returns after some mishaps, and after training with an old wise-man atop a hill; to compete against Blitzen in order to prove to the big boss-man, Santa, who the best reindeer is.

 

Thankfully that brief description doesn’t even cover a third of the stuff that actually happens in this brisk half hour show.

What I find so amazing about Hooves of Fire is it’s ability to cram so much humor and so much story development into such a confined amount of time without making it feel too rushed. You get all of the information you could possibly need to understand what’s going on, to the point that it makes you feel like you’ve seen and heard more than you actually have. In a way, it makes the special feel longer than it is. And I think this is due to a few key reasons:

For one, the characters are extremely well designed. The production team took great care to put their own spin on the world of the North Pole. Each Reindeer has their own distinct personality, size, and shape; two of the 9 reindeer are also female (Donner and Vixen). The elves have been suited up with furry-hooded parkas and snow-mobiles. One of the elves even wears steampunk goggles and a biker cap. And Santa, Mrs. Klaus, and the literal Santa Baby; all have big white beards and mustaches.

And since this was being made in 2000, they suited up old Saint Nick to have a modern hip-hop inspired sense of fashion, as well as a forward-thinking mentality by giving him a tricked out Sleigh Mark-2. This sort of thing has been done to death since the early 2000s, but I think I can safely say that this British special was one of the first to use that trope.

Because of these distinctive designs, it allows each character to stick in your mind without them having to be on screen for very long. And just about every character supports the story in some fashion, so they all have their part to play.

 

The other interesting thing that helps this short stick in your mind, other than the chuckle-worthy British humor, is the soundtrack. My God is this a wonderful soundtrack. It’s almost shocking to think that a thirty minute TV special needs a soundtrack with songs that aren’t just background orchestration. In fact, we have five major songs here, two of which were written by the short’s composer, Mark Knopfler. There’s the (now cliché) “Chariots of Fire” theme from the movie of the same name; it’s only there for a gag, though, so don’t worry. Then there’s “Poison” by The Prodigy: a grunge/techno track used during another gag, but it totally sticks with you. And there’s also “Crazy” by Seal, which is actually a pretty cool song once it gets going; and even makes reference to “Fly Like an Eagle,” which Seal sang for the soundtrack of Space Jam.

Finally, there’s the star track, “Other Side of the Moon:” written by Mark Knopfler and performed by Jane Horrocks and Mikey Graham; as the theme song to this short.

This song is so damn catchy. It has a beautiful and uplifting dance-beat opening… that then transitions into a soft rock ballad with a few light guitar riffs here and there. The base harmony that provides the song’s chorus, or perhaps rather its backup vocals; is one of those sounds that I have heard in my head for so long that it will be there for the rest of my life. You actually hear the distinct “doo-wee-ooh” sound clip during the opening transition into the main menu screen of the DVD. So every time I ever popped in the DVD, there it was whistling in my ears. I love this song so much I wish I could buy the whole song on I-Tunes. Unfortunately a proper soundtrack doesn’t seem to have been made. You can, however, buy the other three tracks I mentioned; as BBC was given permission by those artist’s record companies to use them in the short. I would highly suggest you check out “Crazy.”

 

To speak on the animation for a bit, there is a small documentary on the DVD where you can see how the short was produced. And it’s quite a fascinating process each time I see it, either in Aardman’s films or Henry Selick’s. The reindeer’s bodies are made from plasticine and rubber parts in order to retain the form of their figures, whereas the mouths are all made from small bits of clay to allow for slightly more flexibility in shaping dialogue. The head is also interchangeable in many instances.

The bodies of all of the characters, as well as most props and set dressings, have a unique paint job that gives it a gritty and rusty edge: sort of like an aged wine barrel, or perhaps the outside texture of an almond. Much more subdued colors and browner shades as well.

 

As one should readily expect from such a production as this; the charm of this special comes mostly through the voice-acting. Interestingly, though, this special was given two dubs: one in Britain during its original 2001 broadcast, and one from CBS, during its 2002 and 2003 US broadcast.

Speaking strictly of the British dub, we have Robbie the Reindeer, played by Ardal O’Hanlon; who you may know as Brannigan the cat-man from the Doctor Who episode, “Gridlocked.”

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Then there’s the great Steve Coogan as the antagonistic Blitson; who you may know from things like Night at the Museum, Disney’s Around the World in 80 Days, Philomena, and Alan Partridge.

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There’s also Jane Horrocks; who not only played Robbie’s (2nd) love-interest, Donner, but also sang the theme song, “Other Side of the Moon.” The other recognizable role I could see from her was her role as Fairy Mary in all 5 Tinker Bell movies.

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And then there’s an interesting appearance by Rhys Ifans as the Head-Elf with those steampunk goggles I mentioned. You may know Rhys from The Amazing Spiderman as Dr. Curt Connors, he also played James Hook in the mini-series Neverland; and was Nemo Nobody’s father in the independent Sci-fi epic, Mr. Nobody. A rather understated character he ends up playing here in this short.

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The rest of the cast fills out with your typical selection of varied British talent; who I have to say prove to sound better than background characters and extras you may find in a lot of US productions. UK actors with accents ranging from your Norfolks to your Cornwalls, and your Cardiffs to your Dublins, allow for a much broader range of characters not just in appearance but in their voice. And with these accents comes a lot of regional humor and forms of speech that allow for certain gags and jokes to work (especially when it comes to certain regional terms) that would not work without the accents. Whereas in the US, most of the people that you hear in film and voice overs that are popular actors don’t have much of an accent outside of maybe a tinge of New English. Most of the time, though, US actor’s voices will vary in how they personally speak with their cadence, their pitch, the way that their vocal chamber is shaped, and whether or not they speak with an impediment either in the tongue or on the lips (which is where you get the two kinds of lisps).

 

Sorry for the detour, but this then leads me into my thoughts on the US dub of Hooves of Fire. And I’ll preface this by saying that “If you wish to leave now, that’s perfectly fine. The rest of this review is only on the comparisons between the US and UK dubs of this film, and it gets rather lengthy and in-depth. So I won’t be disappointed if you decide to skip to the bottom to read my closing thoughts.” And now, without further adeu…

 

HOLY CRAP, was this US dub terrible! Just… so…much…wrong.

Before I say anything else, I’d like to say that I know… without a doubt that this cast can do so much better than this.

Conducted and re-distributed in 2002 by CBS; the US cast consists of Ben Stiller as Robbie, his dad Jerry Stiller as Old Jingle, Jim Belushi as Santa Klaus, Hugh Grant as Blitzen, and Britney Spears as Donner. And I honestly thought the US re-dub was going to be better than this due to these actors’ work in later animated roles. Jim Belushi and Brad Garret, for instance, have gotten a lot of work as voice-over actors in different projects here and there; and Ben Stiller has done a good job in the Madagascar movies. But unfortunately, their natural talents do not come through here.

I would say, after thinking it over, that there are four key areas where this American dub fails, and in which the original UK dub succeed. And I have a feeling that these issues have more to do with the Voice-Over Director than they do the cast.

 

Number One: Sincerity and Volume

When performing voice over, it is paramount that you are honest and sincere with your line readings. It’s just like any other form of acting. You have to take in your character’s personality, their energy and emotions, and project them through yourself: believe that you are that character. When you do this, your character’s enthusiasm, anger, sadness, or disinterest should show in your voice; and it’s very easy to tell when an actor isn’t putting their all into it. The biggest tell-tale sign for me was that whenever Robbie was supposed to be excited or joyful, Ben Stiller held back and just sort of gave a breathy “yeah,” “whoo-hoo,” or “awesome.” But it sure doesn’t sound like it’s awesome. The same thing goes for Britney Spears and Jerry Stiller who play Donner and Old Jingle respectively: at every point in the film where I knew their performance should have been more enthusiastic, it sounded dull and incredibly flat.

When you’re excited, you’re supposed to naturally push on your diaphragm and project more sound, effectively raising your volume and making you sound super pumped. I can’t even believe I have to explain how that works, but if you listened to this US dub after knowing the UK version by heart, you’d probably die a little inside. Lol

Something else I noticed is that just like with being excited, whenever Robbie was having trouble, or was angry, or was in pain; Ben would also drop the ball. There’s one scene in particular where Robbie is trying to work on a baby doll assembly line in the Elf’s workshop, and he gets stuck on the conveyer belt and gets packed into a doll box. And then when one of the Elves goes to press the “Try Me” button on the package, he presses Robbie in the nose, and Robbie screams like he’s getting poked in the nuts. Now when Ardal O’Hanlon played Robbie, his reaction was hilarious; but when Ben Stiller did it, he just goes “ow:” like he just stepped on a crumb or something.

It’s sort of like when I try to do my voice-overs at home in the middle of the day, and I try not to disturb my family, while at the same time trying to scream so that I can record some excited reactions. It just ends up sounding fake and lousy.

 

Number Two: Local Vernacular

I sort of already covered this issue, but that was before I actually heard the US dub and realized how true it was. English vernaculars across the British Isles have dozens of variations on pronunciation as well as native traditional vocabulary and terminology. There are many regional sayings and phrases that will often show up in British movie and television scripts if the writers include characters from specific regions, or if actors from those regions decide to ad-lib a line or two. It gives the dialogue flavor and a little extra pizzazz, which allows the script to avoid being dull. And I’ll tell you what, it didn’t take me long to realize just how important regional dialects were to films like this, once I heard what lines CBS attempted to Americanize.

Just like how I explained with “sincerity;” depending on where an actor comes from, their regional dialect and native phrases are going to sound more honest coming from them than coming from anyone else. So if someone from America tries to read dialogue written for a character from Glasgow, in a Middle-American accent; it’s going to sound terrible. The same thing is true if you try to replace native UK phrasing and terminology with an American equivalent: it just won’t hold the same expression or the same emotion in most cases.

For instance, at one point Robbie is given a cheeseburger and large fries from Blitzen. In the UK version, Robbie says “Cheers, Blitzen. Yer a pal.” But in the US dub, he says, “Thanks Blitzen. What a pal.” It might not sound like a huge difference, but it’s all in the delivery of those lines that makes it not come across the same way. A better example would be when Santa tells Robbie “You’re a good deer, just like your dad.” Now Jim Belushi does say the exact same line; except that when British actor Ricky Tomlinson said it, it was a minor joke on the word “deer” also meaning “dear.” So it was a little more of an affectionate and figurative reading rather than literal. You’ll tend to find that certain regions of both the UK and certain Southern States will have people use the word “dear” when referring or speaking to complete strangers.

I think the worst offence in this regard is with Dez Yeti and Alan Snowman, the two news-castors covering the climactic Reindeer Games (who I assume are parodies of actual British commentators). With these guys, their native UK accents gave Dez dry wit and Alan a bit of a Scottish flare. Sure, some people probably wouldn’t be able to pick up on what Alan Snowman was saying half the time, but that’s not the point. The point is that what they were saying and how they were saying it reflected their characters reactions to the events of the story in a natural and more spontaneous way. But once they were dubbed over by American actors, their native phrases were replaced by lousy counterparts, and the particular way that they delivered their lines just took all of the fun and humor out of these two quirky characters.

 

Number Three: Timing

Perhaps the biggest issue of all that I had with this dub was the timing, because it managed to screw everything up; especially when coupled with insincere line readings.

If you watch any movie, any more at all, and it has amazing acting in it; you are definitely going to care about what’s going on, and you’re going to catch everything. Next to nothing will go over your head. But if you watch that same movie dubbed over by people that sound like they don’t know what they’re doing, you will no longer care, and you will miss everything.

I actually can’t believe how much I didn’t care about these characters, or what was going on, while watching the US dub; because nearly every line had poor pacing. And because of the lack of sincerity in the performances, my brain could not register what was going on and how relationships between the characters were building, even though I knew exactly what was going on.

Now it’s true that every actor did match their dialogue with the characters’ mouth-shapes. But even then, somehow, the pacing of each line was out of whack. Certain inflections were gone, characters who tended to speak fast were now (somehow) speaking slower, and way too many characters almost talk over each other because they didn’t do enough takes to tweak the length. Some lines even went past a cut and into the next shot because the VA director probably didn’t ask the actors to try it few more times. And again, I know these actors are better than this; but it just seems like the Voice Director seriously had no idea what he or she was doing with this project or this material, and just sort of sped through the recording sessions so that CBS wouldn’t have to pay these actors as much for the work.

 

Number Four: Editing and Sound Design

And the icing on this fruit-cake of a mess is most definitely the lack of audio mixing. There was absolutely no care taken to actually edit these recordings so that they blended into the scene. In the original soundtrack, dialogue is edited to sound muffled, distant, indoors, outdoors, in a room with a reverb, or outside with an echo: allowing every voice to sound like it’s actually there in that space reacting to the environment. But in the CBS re-dub, absolutely none of that happens. The sound is just left as-is, at the same level and the same EQ throughout the entire film. And it completely takes me out of the experience at every turn.

But thankfully, despite all of that, no one has to listen to this waste of a dub if they don’t wish to. =)

 

 

To wrap things up, I would highly recommend Robbie the Reindeer: Hooves of Fire, and hopefully its sequels as well (but ONLY in its original, British Dub); to anyone who loves Wallace and Grommit, anyone who loves stop-motion, and anyone who loves British comedy. It is well worth your time and money.

A charming little animated short for anyone’s collection.

 

 

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No, not Slayer the band; but “The Slayers,” with an “s.“

The Slayers is a rather popular anime/manga/book magic & fantasy franchise that has been around since the early 1990s. It stars the likable but highly volatile and hot-headed young sorceress, Lina Inverse; other-wise known as “Humanity’s greatest plague” (there are many animes revolving around characters that nearly destroy everything everywhere they go); as she roams the land seeking fame, fortune, and lots of food. She is often accompanied by either her faithful body-guard, Gourry Gabriev; or her partner-in-crime/rival, Naga The White Serpent: a buxom, air-headed woman with a pension for getting distracted by gold and constantly annoying the hell out of Lina.

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The stories that are told throughout the Slayers franchise range from the typical to the weird to the ridiculous and unorthodox: from seeking out lost ancient scriptures and writings, to finding the philosopher’s stone (which can be seen in dozens of other anime as well); from chasing demonic creatures across time and space; to attempting to help a young boy become a master swordsman while at the same time avoiding the wrath of his mother, who periodically appears holding a giant hammer and beats Lina and Naga over the head with it if they so much as say the kid’s uniform looks a little wrinkled.

This franchise does not take itself very seriously, so be warned my friends before venturing onward.

 

The World of Slayers

The world of Slayers is nestled in a place and time that’s rather hard to distinguish. It’s a world rooted in the Middle-ages and even the High Middle-ages, never moving past feudal times; and yet involving many of our modern conveniences, modern culture, and modern technology. Laboratories have cryostasis chambers. Town markets sell stuffed-animals and collectibles. Giant walking stone Golems can be moved by remote control. Many people wear glasses. There are theme and water-parks.

Even Lina and her friend Amelia have to sing into microphones while wearing Music-Idol-like attire, in order to make a certain treasure appear, inside a secret room, inside a dungeon, at the very bottom of a cave system. So the franchise likes to live in its own little universe that could almost be a bit like Nausicaa or those fan-theories about the Flintstones and Aladdin: where the world they live in could be post-apocalyptic, and elements of former times have trickled down into their ancient-like societies.

 

But then again, due to the intricate and complicated deity system and all of the gods and demons that inhabit the universe of Slayers, and the fact that they constantly poke their nose into things: it’s more likely that this really is the Middle-Ages, but spirits and creatures from the ethereal plane have been able to bring all of this modern knowledge back in time. That’s just another theory, though.

The magic that is used in this world is extremely powerful and comes in your two typical forms: white magic and black magic. White magic is drawn from nature itself and many of the smaller deities that are associated with nature, while Black magic is drawn from the Mazoku: a group of high-ranking monsters that live in the astral plane, and have existed for thousands upon thousands of years. Alchemy and other forms of science are also often partnered with magical teachings in this world; allowing sorcerers to craft highly intricate magical objects, weapons, clothing, and chimeras (creatures that are a fusion of two or more animal species).

 

The Characters of Slayers

To lay some ground work for the many reviews ahead, I’d like to give a brief description of each of the major characters that you’ll meet in this franchise.

○ First there’s Lina Inverse, but I’ve already summed her up. However, there are a few other details. For one, she is meant to be only 16 years old at the start of the Slayers anime series; and it has been said that she is supposed to be younger during the events of the Slayers films and the OVAs, where she travels around with Naga the Serpent. You may find this a hard fact to swallow, as do I; so I tend to leave that fact at the door when I watch any part of this series.

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Also something that I previously mentioned that you will see come up quite often is the fact that Lina LOVES to eat. Not only that, but she eats plate after plate after plate, until she has stacks of dozens of meals; all without gaining any weight. How can this be? Well I don’t think it’s ever established during the series, because it definitely isn’t mentioned in the films. But I gather it’s very much like what I video I saw said about the logic of Sonic the Hedgehog: that if Sonic were to actually be able to run as fast as he does in the games, he would have to eat mountains of food in order to produce enough stored energy to not lose what body mass he has when he runs at super-sonic speed. Movement always needs energy, energy needs fuel, and fuel for our bodies is food. Now Lina Inverse is an extremely powerful sorceress. Her signature spell, if it isn’t the always popular “Fire-Ball,” is the devastating “Dragon-Slave:” which can decimate an entire city leaving an enormous crater in its wake. In order for Lina to call upon that energy, not only does she have to chant an incantation, but she has to supply this spell with a lot of her own physical energy. Therefore she eats pounds and pounds of food every chance she gets. Same thing with her traveling partner Naga, or her body-guard Gourry from the series.

○ Now onto Gourry Gabriev. Gourry is a good-natured, strong-willed, and kind-hearted blond beef-cake that found Lina walking all alone in the woods one day, and assumed that she was a lost little girl wondering how to get home. But after traveling with her for only a few days, he soon came to realize how powerful and capable she really was. But even so, from that first day onward he dedicated himself to be her loyal body-guard, no matter what. And even though he can be a complete moron sometimes (often lacking anything above a 3rd grade education), Gourry I think knows full well how much Lina really loves him, and that he loves her back.

○ Zelgadis Graywords is our third main character. Zel is the embittered apprentice of Rezo, the Red Priest; who was cursed by Rezo to live as a chimera (crossed between a goblin and a golem) after Zel wished to become invincible. Now Zelgadis travels the world seeking a way to restore his former body, and eventually comes into the company of Lina and Gourry, who are themselves seeking out the Red Priest. Eventually Zelgadis joins the team as yet another powerful sorcerer and historian on magic.

Amelia Wil Tesla Seyruun is our fourth character, who enters the show during the second half of the first Slayers series. She is the daughter of the Crown Prince Philionel El Di Seyruun, and only heir to the throne. While still a royal in training, she decides to go out into the world on her own in order to be a champion to the downtrodden and the less fortunate: essentially becoming her own version of Batman; but more showy, like a power-ranger. She strikes poses, stands atop large objects like a highly compensating Soap-box, she gives long elaborate and poetic speeches about “Great Justice!,” and then falls flat on her ass. Only after humiliating herself does she actually manage to slightly harm the evil-doers she managed to come across that particular day. Her moral compass is very firm, but she is capable of betraying even her best friends if she knows they’ve done absolute wrong. And you can be sure that Lina does a lot of morally questionable things throughout the franchise. So one of the dynamics of this show is watching to see when and how Amelia will bounce back and forth between trusting Lina Inverse and disapproving of her actions.

Xellos Metallium, also known as The Mysterious Priest or the Trickster Priest; is the most mysterious character in the franchise. He is a high-ranking Mazoku, an entity created by the demon lord, Ruby Eyed Shabrinigdo. Xellos is more or less a monster-like creature that lives in the “astral plane” and serves Lord Gaav as his general in command. Creatures on the “astral plane” cannot exist in the human world unless they inhabit the body of a human or the form of an object like armor. But some of the highest ranking Mazoku, like Xellos, can materialize their own bodies from scratch; effectively having two original bodies linked between worlds. The Xellos that we see is his second form which can exist in the human world. In this form, he is unaffected by most magic spells, and can disappear and reappear at will anywhere he chooses because he is still “projecting” himself into this world. He also has put his hand into many a difficult situation whenever he feels he can and should lend a hand to Lina and her friends. Sometimes he helps them, sometimes he helps their enemies: it all seems to have no rhyme or reason; because as he is sure to tell you, “it… is… a secret.”

Naga the White Serpent is our final character worth mentioning here. She is a character who only appears in the films and OVAs, and for the most part, only appears during Lina’s life before meeting Gourry and the rest of the group from the TV show. Naga the Serpent, as stated before, is a buxom babe with large boobs and a self-centered nature; who lives to flaunt her stuff and present her skills, her smarts, and good looks upon the masses. She is extremely self-confident, always giving a loud hooting laugh whenever she finds something humorous to her. And as if to add insult to injury as far as Lina Inverse is concerned, Naga chooses to wear an extremely skimpy leather outfit that perfectly accentuates her feminine gifts as well as making a statement that she is indeed a dark sorceress. When she introduces herself to Lina for the first time, she announces that she is “Lina’s closest and most fearless rival,” bent on proving once and for all who is the one true overlord of magic.

But even so, Naga chooses to travel along with Lina on her journeys as her on-again/off-again traveling companion and partner-in-crime. Naga is also clumsy, inept, careless, clueless, and just about as much of a bone-head as Gourry; but ultimately has some hidden talent and actually useful knowledge up her (rather nonexistent) sleeves.

 

Things to Enjoy

There are many great things to love about this series. Of course the first one is that it is never grounded in reality. The circumstances are always so outlandish and yet the characters always take everything so completely seriously. I especially like it whenever Lina Inverse has to go up against mad scientists, corrupt politicians, and other obvious villains; and she ends up having a conversation with them about their evil plans (like Batman or Sherlock Holmes), which builds up their egos; only to then dispose of them in the simplest and yet most perfect ways possible. The fourth-wall is also broken at least once every movie.

This then leads to the great humor of the series; a lot of which revolves around what I previously mentioned: there’s a lot of clichés and over-used traits being turned on their heads, and Lina becoming gradually annoyed at the ineptitude of a lot of the people she meets (good or bad). Lina and Naga also often go into magical duels against each other because of their constant insult contests and Lina getting pissed off about Naga’s large boobs and her insecurities about her small boobs. The franchise doesn’t have too much sexual humor in it, but Lina’s issues with her breast size are one of the main reoccurring jokes.

Something I will mention more during my individual reviews of the Slayers films is the rather beautiful cinematography. The attention to light and shadow contrast, slightly subtle colors, exposure settings and light reflections, as well as cinema-scope-like shot design makes the Slayers films (mostly The Motion Picture and Return) a feast for the eyes; especially for those filmmakers out there. It’s a distinctly realistic approach to environment and color space that up until I saw the Slayers films and Miyazaki’s movies, I had not seen in an animated feature before. Most Disney movies don’t try to be realistic with their worlds and environments in quite this same manner.

And finally, what is perhaps the coolest thing about this franchise is its music; and I’m not talking about the score (although that can be awesome as well). Rather I’m referring to the amazing list of tracks written and recorded by singer/voice-actor Megumi Hayashibara: who not only provides the Japanese voice for Lina Inverse, but also created every single theme song and ending credit theme song to every show and movie in the Slayers Franchise (except for maybe 2 songs). Some of my top favorites include “Get Along,” the theme to the original series; “Just Be Conscious,” the ending credits theme to Slayers Return; “Reflection,” the theme to Slayers Great; and “Kagirinai Yokubou no Naka Ni” (which can be roughly translated as “Within Unlimited Desires”), the ending theme to the Slayers: Book of Spells OVA.

Speaking strictly of the series for a moment: the original seasons of The Slayers anime, specifically Slayers and Slayers Next, are really strong in how they draw you in with the intricately designed universe. Most of the information you learn about the world is given to you by Lina during long exposition dumps; but it is nonetheless deeply fascinating, and helps to establish a history and cosmology for the world that the rest of the series and films build off of. And because of all this rich history, ancient spells, long dead sorcerers and their stores of magical knowledge, and the many evil creatures and monsters our heroes have to confront: it allows for some of the biggest stakes I’ve ever seen in an anime.

By far the strongest of the Slayers TV series is Slayers Next, which presents possibly the most challenging obstacles the cast ever face. One could argue that the implications of the conflict in Slayers Try makes it more serious; but the emotional struggles that the characters go through is far less in that season relatively speaking.

 

Notable Facts on Voices

Something I feel is important to mention here in this introduction is that while watching the entirety of the Slayers franchise, you will eventually come to realize the inconsistencies in voice actors. Zelgadis for example, started out in the first season being played by actor Daniel Cronan. But because the character disappeared and then reappeared about 8-10 episodes later, Daniel was either unable to return for more recordings, or the dub team felt it would be best to recast the role for someone who had a better sound that could last two more full seasons. They then found up-and-coming Anime Dub legend, Crispin Freeman; who got to play Zelgadis as his first voice-over role.

The character of Xellos has been played by at least three actors: David Moo created the signature English voice in Slayers Next and Slayers Try; Kurt Stoll played him once in the disappointing Slayers Premium; and Michael Sinterniklaas performed the role in Slayers Revolution and Evolution-R.

Naga the Serpent was performed by Kelly Manison (a staple actress of many early anime dubs) who played her in the films and OVAs, and refined Naga’s signature hooting laugh that she soon came to master. Naga also makes a reappearance in Slayers Evolution-R (in some small way) cursed as a spirit now living inside a suit of armor; having completely forgotten who she is. The only thing that remains is part of her self-confident personality, part of her signature laugh, and the fact that she thinks her name is Nama. Neither the show, nor Lina ever outright attest to the fact that Nama is Naga; but it’s obvious from the flash-back sequence and the performance of replacement voice actress Eva Kaminsky, that she is definitely still Naga the Serpent.

But perhaps the most notable difference in voice actors is Lina Inverse herself.

Originally, Central Park Media produced the initial dub for all three original seasons of the Slayers TV series back in the late 90s, and released them on VHS and DVD up until FUNimation picked up the license about 5 years ago. But around the year 2000, ADV decided to pick up the licenses for all four existing Slayers movies (which were relatively new at the time), and had plans to contact Lina’s English voice actor, Lisa Ortiz, to reprise her role. Fortunately or Unfortunately (you’ll see why in a moment), due to scheduling conflicts and unavailability, Lisa was unable to record for ADV; and so ADV set out to recast Lina’s character for their English dub of the films and OVAs.

My own fan tribute to Voice Actresses Lisa Ortiz, Cynthia Martinez, and Megumi Hayashibara: the voices of Lina Inverse.

Now while Lisa Ortiz’s performance and version of Lina is perfectly suited for Lina’s character in the TV series, it is most certainly not suited (in this reviewer’s opinion) to Lina’s personality in the films. As I explained earlier, Lina in the series is actually only 16 years old. But during the events of the films (which were adapted from stories in the novels taking place before the events of the series), Lina is actually even younger: only about 13 or 14 years old. And you can tell that while she is always a hot-head prone to irrational bouts of destruction and mayhem; she is far more restrained and far more kind, compassionate, and understanding in the series. She actually valiantly helps people out and pretty much saves the world from destruction twice if not three times. And she is extremely loyal to her friends.

In the films, however, Lina Inverse is a brat. She is a very stubborn and greedy person, she will scream much more often than she ever does in the series; and due to her unfortunate company while traveling the world, she is much more easily irritated. So I always felt it was a fortunate circumstance that Lisa Ortiz could not come back and instead ADV was able to land the very funny and quirky Cynthia Martinez; who adds a unique, raspy, childish, and slightly Latin flavor to our red-headed sorceress.

I will of course leave it up to you guys which version of Lina’s voice you prefer, but each is really their own individual character because the films and series are two separate interpretations of one character from a series of novels. So it makes sense that the voice actors would be different as well. This isn’t true of the Japanese, as Lina has always been played by Megumi Hayashibara. But in her case, she plays either version beautifully.

 

My Final Personal Thoughts (Pre-reviews)

The Slayers franchise was the first anime I ever fell in love with, back when I started watching anime in 2006. The moment I saw the first scene from the Motion Picture and Slayers Return, I knew that this world and these characters would become key players in defining my sense of creativity, my sense of humor, and my imagination as a whole. This franchise is extremely rich and diverse with so many easter eggs and things to look for. The series alone has dozens upon dozens of interesting villains and allies; and the films are filled with some of the wackiest and most bizarre scene-chewing antagonists you will see in any anime. If you want a cornucopia of 90s traditional anime fantasy awesomeness; then you can’t really do much better than this. Because this is by far one of the best animes I have ever seen, and I can only hope you will come to enjoy it in the same way.

 

There are still many other things to touch on with regards to this franchise; but if you’d like to learn more about it all, and hopefully garner and interest in the franchise yourself, I encourage you to check out my individual reviews that I will link to below. I’ve given each entry below, a brief synopsis on this Reference page as well as a trailer or theme-song; and then you can click on each title that is highlighted to go to my review for that title.

At the writing of this introduction, I have yet to write any of these reviews. So please check back to see when these reviews have been added.

Enjoy, everyone!

 

The following list of titles and their descriptions have been laid out in chronological order rather than by section. I have no plans as of yet to fully review the TV series of Slayers, but I will be reviewing all five Slayers films and both 3-part OVAs.

 

The Slayers (Novel series)

The original Slayers stories were written by Hajime Kanzaka, and serialized in Dragon Magazine in 1989. They were soon bound together into the first volumes of The Slayers novels, which consists of 15 volumes in total that were published from 1990 to 2000. These original novels are what eventually were turned into the first anime series, also called The Slayers, with only some minor story changes from what I could tell. There was also a spin-off series of 30 more novels known as the Slayers Special series, written from 1991 to 2008. And there was yet another spin-off of that series called Slayers Smash with consisted of five issues written from 2008 to 2011.

There are quite a few Slayers manga series out there in Japan; some only one-shots and some lasting for a few volumes. But the main one available here in the States was and is the Slayers Specials: consisting of four volumes illustrated by Tommy Ohtsuka from 2000-2001, which were adapted from stories from the Slayers Special novels.

 

The Slayers (anime) (1995)

More of a grouping of smaller continuous stories than one single story: The Slayers begins with Lina Inverse as she meets Gourry and Zelgadis for the first time. Zelgadis explains to Lina that the legendary Red Priest, Rezo, wishes to resurrect the dark lord Shabrinigdo in order that he may grant Rezo his eye-sight back. Lina knows this is an extremely bad idea, and Zelgadis is hell-bent on taking revenge against Rezo for cursing him to be a chimera.

It is eventually revealed that after being torn into several pieces during a great ancient battle, a piece of Shabrinigdo’s being had been sealed away in the yet unborn eyes of Rezo. And as Rezo grew older, he worked hard to learn magic and spells, not only to help those less fortunate than himself, but to find a way to cure his eyesight. And therefore, upon releasing the dark lord Shabrinigdo, it is revealed that Rezo’s blindness was the one thing keeping the dark lord contained. Of course Shabrinigdo has no interest in helping Rezo any further, and takes control of his body.

Lina Inverse is then put to the test; because interestingly enough, all dark magic in this world is drawn from Mazoku and other monster beings from the “astral plane,” most especially lord Shabrinigdo. Meaning that Lina cannot draw upon Shabrinigdo’s power to kill Shabrinigdo. So the only choice she has is to call upon a higher-power, and a much more earth shattering spell.

After defeating Shabrinigdo and putting Rezo’s spirit to rest; Lina, Gourry, and Zelgadis go their separate ways; only to discover later on that Rezo isn’t actually dead yet. No. In fact, he had prepared for his eventual demise and had created himself a clone: one that still harbored his darker nature, despite the absence of the dark lord clouding his vision. Now having met Princess Amelia and another young white-mage named Sylfiel, and having rejoined with Zelgadis; the five allies must now figure out how to take out this second form of Rezo before he attempts to resurrect yet another long dead god of the ancient world.

 

 

Slayers the Motion Picture (aka Slayers Perfect) (1995)

Lina Inverse, a young sorceress making her way in the world, reluctantly reunites with an old friend of hers named Naga the Serpent. The two soon board  a boat to the legendary tourist location known as Mepross Island: which is a place that is only accessible from the outside world once a year. This island was once home to a civilization of elves, which since have all died out and are rumored to still inhabit the island in the form of spirit fairies.

Once Lina and Naga reach the island they are immediately confronted by each of the strongest individuals in the city, each stronger than the last; and they quickly dispose of the 8th, 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th, and 3rd strongest. But once they come upon the strongest individual, it turns out it’s a demon by the name of Joyrock, who can traverse both space and time through self-made portals.

This Joyrock character is responsible for traveling back in time and wiping out the elf population of the island prematurely. And so an old hermit by the name of Rowdy Gabriev (a relative of Gourry’s) tasks Lina Inverse above all else with stopping Joyrock and restoring the timeline before it’s too late.

 

 

Slayers Next (anime) (1996)

Once again, the Slayers series proves to be a grouping of related stories rather than one continuous narrative from beginning to middle to end.

Slayers Next follows the continuing adventures of Lina, Gourry, Zelgadis, and Amelia; as they find new food to eat, new treasure to keep, and new people to piss off. Because if I didn’t mention it before, they tend to piss a lot of people off. At the beginning of Next, Lina actually does just that, by destroying the castle of the Kingdom of Xona; whose Princess, named Martina, vows to destroy Lina and/or make her life a living hell by any cost necessary. So as this season progresses, Martina comes up with more interesting ways to exact revenge against Lina for ruining her life.

We also meet the crafty monster general known as Xellos for the first time; who nearly makes Lina blush with his mysterious charms. He is both a help and a hindrance in equal parts during the course of this season. It is also here that we meet one of Xellos’ peers, a certain Hellmaster Phibrizzo: who is very interested to see Lina use the spell that she used to destroy Shabrinigdo.

This spell, known as the Giga Slave, is a spell so powerful that not only does it draw its strength from the most powerful being in the universe, the Lord of Nightmares, but if the incantation for it is spoken wrong, it could shatter the fabric of reality. Lina managed to use it once without incident, but she has no intention of ever using it again due to the sheer risk. But Hellmaster Phibrizzo is very intent on seeing her wield the Giga Slave once again. And he is prepared to do anything in order to make Lina cast it.

 

 

Slayers Return (Movie 2) (1996)

A new adventure with the quirky odd couple of Lina and Naga begins when a young woman from a faraway village is broken and bruised and seeks the help of accomplish sorcerers. This young woman, named Saleena, finds Lina and Naga after Lina had overkilled it on a “Fire-ball” spell and blew up a tavern she had been eating at. After the introductions are made, Saleena explains to Lina that a group of people calling themselves the Zein Organization had taken control of her village, known as Biaz; and that they were searching for some sort of lost treasure there.

Due to Lina’s extensive historical knowledge, she speculates that the Zein are looking for an ancient ultimate weapon that had been built by the elves of the mountains and was then entrusted to the village head-master. This weapon was in reality a weapon designed to fight off the invading demonic forces during the War of Demonic Invasion, almost 1000 years before the events in this film. But the weapon itself entrusted to the village, but rather a bracelet that acted as a homing device or perhaps even a target.

It then once again remains up to Lina Inverse and Naga the Serpent to dispatch with this monstrous and indestructible weapon once and for all; and to tear down the forces of the proud Zein Organization that hoped to control it.

 

 

Slayers Book of Spells (aka Slayers Special) (1996) (OVA, 3 episodes)

Released as the first of 2 OVAs consisting of three short story adaptations from the Slayers Special novels: Slayers – Book of Spells follows Lina and Naga as they…

1. Prevent a mad entrepreneurial scientist from turning Lina Inverse into a devastating chimera of a lion, a dragon, and her head.

2. Teach a young swordsman how to fight and be a hero at the request of his own mother, without incurring her wrath and furious anger by making fun of the boy.

3. Discover the secret of Woogandi’s Mirror: an lost legendary invention by the great sorcerer, Woogandi; that was rumored to have been designed to ward off any enemy force just by showing their own reflection to them.

 

 

Slayers Try (anime) (1997)

Perhaps the largest event in the history of the extra-planar entities: a self-proclaimed savior of the world named Valgaav is intent on releasing Dark Star; a powerful being nearly at the same level as the Lord of Nightmares, but who lives in an entirely different plane of existence than the regular god, dragons, or monsters. Valgaav wishes to bring Dark Star to this universe, in order that Dark Star may rip apart the fabric of time and restore the world to an earlier point, before the Golden Dragons massacred the other Dragon clans, and before the the great Demonic Invasion of Earth happened. To do this, Valgaav must bring together the Five Legendary Weapons of Light; one of which is the Sword of Light, which has been an heirloom and trusted companion in Gourry’s family for generations. And Gourry had been in possession of this Sword since the beginning of series one.

An ancient prophesy, told to Lina Inverse by the Dragon Priest, Filia; states that the gods, the monsters, and the dragons must come together with the aid of Lina Inverse to track down these Weapons of Light before Valgaav can, in the hopes of pushing back Dark Star and restoring the seals that bar him from entering this universe.

This season may have perhaps the grandest story in terms of scope. But in terms of emotion and immediacy, the plot tends to drag quite a bit. And this season has the largest amount of filler episodes, due to the fact that while The Slayers and Slayers Next were based directly on the stories from the original novels; Slayers Try was completely original. So to fill 26 full episodes, they had to write quite a few random stories that resulted in a lot of unnecessary down time. I leave it up to you as to whether or not this ruins your experience with this final “original” season.

 

 

Slayers Great (Movie 3) (1997)

Lina and Naga travel to the city of Stona, a city dedicated to Golem crafting and Golem contests, in order to take in some of the local Golem-crazy culture. It is by mere coincidence that Lina and Naga save the life of the daughter of the legendary Golem craftsman, Galia Einberg, who apparently is still alive and lives in town. Lina then becomes determined to get Galia’s daughter Laia to convince her father to make her a custom Golem, in order that she can sell it for a ton of cash on the market (or at least that’s what’s implied).

Upon arriving at the Einberg home, Galia tells Lina that he hasn’t built a single Golem in years because he had lost his inspiration. But then, upon meeting Lina, he suddenly gets his mojo back and decides to make a deal with Lina that she will be his model.

But then, it is revealed that a plot is afoot; and that the two Regents of Stona: Lord Haizen and Lord Granion, are in a close tactical battle with each other over who should rightfully rule the city of Stona. So the two come up with a plan independently that they should fight in a public Golem contest to see who will win in a fair fight. So Lord Haizen contacts Galia Einberg personally to recruit his help in building a Golem. But then Galia’s estranged son, Huey Einberg, is recruited by Lord Granion to build his Golem.

As you may have guessed, Huey builds his Golem to look like Naga; with large bouncy boobs and all. And Galia builds his Golem to look like Lina, but not nearly as flattering as Lina would have hoped. And the rest of the film follows the battle to see who’s Golem will win the day.

Spoiler Alert: Nobody wins.

 

 

Slayers Gorgeous (Movie 4) (1998)

Okay, this is probably the most absurd plot yet.

Lina Inverse and Naga find themselves in a middle of a family squabble between the High King Lord Calvert, and his ornery daughter, Marlena. But this isn’t just a regular ol’ parent/child dispute over allowance; this is a parent/child dispute over allowance while riding Dragons and using Sorceresses-for-hire to fight in your honor. Thankfully the conflict doesn’t all revolve around a domestic problem; as there happens to be another person in the shadows who has some ulterior motives, and may in fact not be what he seems.

It’s perhaps the dumbest and yet most interesting film of them all. You decide.

 

 

Slayers Excellent (OVA, 3 episodes) (1998)

Released as the 2nd of the 2 OVAs consisting of three short stories, we have Slayers: Excellent, with begins with

1. An origin story of how Lina first met Naga.

2. A story of how Lina met another air-headed bimbo who loves to laugh and make fun of Lina; and then eventually becomes an apprentice of Naga’s in order to learn how to the best and most self-confident person in the world. This of course shocks and terrifies Lina to her very core: to think that someone as annoying as Naga is spreading her so-called “wisdom” and fashion-sense to others.

3. And finally a story about how Naga spread her “wisdom” and fashion-sense to a group of fashion-designers who are all about the latest and greatest trends; while at the same time Lina gets recruited by the conservative and traditional fashion-designers to take down the other group. (not the greatest plot by any means)

 

 

Slayers Premium (half hour OVA Movie) (2001)

Most definitely the weakest link in the franchise, except for maybe Revolution and Evolution-R for one reason or another; Slayers: Premium is the result of a paper-thin plot, a sort of reoccurring motif from the Motion Picture, really unfunny gags, a lousy excuse for a cameo (unless you consider nearly everyone here a cameo), and a ridiculously short running time of only 30 minutes as opposed to the Hour and 5 we normally get.

It’s a crap story of how a fishing village is slowly contracting a disease spread from octopi, that causes one to speak incoherently in their own language: phrases and words could sound like one thing, and mean something completely different; or entire sentences could sound like random arrangements of verbs and nouns and adjectives. There’s no rhyme or reason.

Lina and Gourry and the team from the series all meet up once again and decide to venture into the briny deep to confront these octopus fiends, who apparently have been planning to call upon a great sea monster which they worship. And so it is up to Lina and the gang to stop these octopi bastards, or at least destroy the sea monster before it destroys the village.

Again, really weak, really lame; so let’s move on.

 

 

Slayers Revolution (anime) (2008)

 

 

Slayers Evolution-R (anime) (2009)

 

 

 

 

 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7SlIxthcP4

When a movie based on a cartoon spawns a sequel, the question that immediately comes to mind is, “Is it any closer to the cartoon this time?” Now we’re all aware that the first Inspector Gadget movie from 1999 pretty much got everything wrong, but did the sequel.

So I would like start this off by asking, “Is Inspector Gadget 2 closer to the cartoon?”

The short answer is… Yes, I think it is much closer to the show. But now, allow me to break it all down for you and give you the long answer. After thinking it over, I feel it would be best to do this discussion on a topic-by-topic basis, allowing for certain elements to cross over; that way it can be a complete analysis.

 

Firstly, I’d like to mention something that I’m sure a lot of people won’t when discussing live-action Inspector Gadget: that being the Inspector’s appearance on the Super Mario Brother’s Super Show. You see, when the Super Show had Gadget appear on as a live guest, they decided to cast voice-actor Maurice Lamarche as his live-action counterpart because they already knew that he could do a dead-ringer impression of Don Adams (the original voice of Gadget). In fact, Maurice would often double for Don when he wasn’t available for an episode or two.

SuperMarioBrothersSuperShow_DefectiveGadgetry03

And since Maurice was probably easier to convince to do the job than Don was, they had Maurice come in with the coat and the hat and perform the first live-action Inspector Gadget. And it’s actually stunning how close his impression is of Don Adams. You almost can’t tell the difference when you listen to both.

The interesting thing about this initial live appearance is not just that the voice was accurate to the character, even though it doesn’t have to be; but that the costume was already wrong from this point forward. Now I understand that Gadget’s costume is all gray, and that finding an all gray trench coat and matching hat is a little hard to come by for a cheap sit-com lead-in for a cartoon series. In fact, they actually succeeded in making Gadget look like Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther films: what with his coat being the regular tan, and his hat being a dark brown rain hat. Well okay, I suppose that was the whole point; but they still didn’t make his costume gray. And as you’ll see, they never did.

Then the first movie happened. And even though they now had a far superior budget to work with where they could have designed any costume in any color that they wanted to: they decided to go with the simpler approach and boil his costume down to the same old tan trench coat you can find just about anywhere, and then they gave him a brown short-brim fedora. He didn’t even wear gloves this time! I really don’t understand this decision.

Why the hell isn’t his costume gray? Seriously, why can’t it be gray? There should be no excuse for this. But you want to know what the very first thing is about the sequel that’s actually an improvement? They made his hat a closer color to his coat, and they make it a unique shape. At least that is some progress. Now he actually feels like Gadget.

But trust me when I say, it gets even more promising from there. So let’s dive right in.

 

First good change, Doctor Claw:

In the first Inspector Gadget, Doctor Claw was portrayed as Sanford Scolex: a quirky, good-looking businessman slowly losing his mind; who then turns into Doctor Claw once he loses a hand to a falling bowling ball. He was manic, smarmy, presented himself as an eligible bachelor to Ms. Brenda Bradford (Inspector Gadget’s initial love interest); and was all around NOT like the cartoon.

Inspector Gadget 2 does us all a huge favor by retconing nearly the entire first movie, and returning Doctor Claw closer to his former roots. Now Claw is almost entirely in the shadows, and you barely ever see his entire face except maybe in wide-shots. He also laughs a lot more, he’s an out-and-out villain; he uses an escape pod to evade capture at the end of the movie, and the director actually uses the M.A.D. Cat insignia that was signature to Claw’s organization throughout the film. But his presentation here is still different.

Now he’s shown as a pimped out, fedora wearing mobster boss who sounds like Bane from The Dark Knight Rises if he were played by Denis Hopper. Kinda weird but workable in his own way. Or perhaps he sounds more like Doctor Claw from the cartoon when Don Francks played him for a few episodes. He still doesn’t run a “world-wide” evil organization. But at least they hint to the fact that his organization may have been bigger before he was put in jail at the beginning of the story.

 

Second good change, Inspector Gadget:

French Stewart is a far better live-action counterpart for Gadget than Matthew Broderick was. For one thing, Stewart is closer in “character” to the cartoon Gadget. In the show, Gadget is a bumbling, self-absorbed, easily fooled, prone to glory hogging, and easily distracted/careless person. But we love him because he’s a dork and his niece loves him to bits; and at least he always does right by her. In the first movie, the writers clearly cast Matthew in the hopes of making Gadget a sympathetic and lost-puppy sort of character: more of an “adorable bumbler” where you feel pity for him rather than laughter and a little irritation at his irrational conclusions and actions. French Stewart on the other hand is closer to the cartoon Gadget because he jumps to conclusions; makes irrational and foolish arrests of good, law-abiding citizens; he’s a little ego-centric, and over-confident, but he has an honest heart behind it all.

Secondly, French Stewart has a closer “performance” to the cartoon Gadget. Stewart is a little bit like your poor-man’s John De Lancie; and the way he plays his lines and speaks his words is actually reminiscent of Don Adams’ performance as the original Gadget: with his emphasis on certain words and his stretching of vowel sounds; except without the rise in pitch. And Don Adams didn’t actually talk like that all the time either; he was only doing that voice initially for his signature role in Get Smart: sort of his own exaggerated impersonation of classic actor, William Powell. And of course the voice just stuck to Don like glue after that. It became his persona for any character he played.

Stewart also has a more distinct and quirky looking face: the long nose, an expressive mouth, and a general facial expression that spells over-confidence and says “oh yeah… I got this.” With Broderek, it was nothing but wide-eyed innocence and child-like curiosity that just looked like he was dressing up as Gadget for Halloween rather than legitimately playing the character. Stewart also seems more adept at the physical comedy and playing up the gags better than Broderek was. Broderek would usually look stunned at everything that happened to him; but Stewart looks annoyed, ticked, surprised, curious, confounded; and many other varied expressions and emotions.

 

Third good change, the Theme Song:

I can agree with Doug Walker (The Nostalgia Critic) that being able to hear the Inspector Gadget theme on the big-screen back in ’99 was cool: “the first time.” But afterwards you realize that it just doesn’t stand up to that amazing grungy synth sound that the original had. It was always sort of weird and dark, but catchy and fun all at the same time. The version in the first movie was a watered down and lazy rendition with rather poor backup singers; and not a single bit of synth to speak of.

In Inspector Gadget 2, they change it up quite a bit by making it a horn heavy tune with low trombones and clarinets, high brass, and some tooting oboes for good measure: all backed by a hip-hop percussion section and the sounds of ratchets and mechanical screwdrivers. Now it has character, now it has flavor, and it represents the tone of the sequel perfectly. This theme has spunk, and lots of it.

Even the version of the theme used in the sequel’s trailers and DVD menu is a better remix than the version from the first movie.

 

Now onto the sort-of good, sort-of bad changes. Starting with The Chief:

Originally known as Chief Quimby, the Chief would follow Gadget to where ever he went in order to give him important messages about his next assignment personally. And in a similar vein to M and James Bond, Charlie and the Angels, or Major Monogram and Agent Perry from Phineas and Ferb; Chief Quimby and Inspector Gadget were part of a world-wide investigative operation that was tasked to follow Doctor Claw wherever he went in order to stop his evil plans and try to bring him to justice once and for all.

But when the first Inspector Gadget movie came out, all of that M.A.D. Organization, World Domination, and world traveling stuff went out the window. Instead of Gadget going anywhere to track down Doctor Claw, like James Bond going after Blowfeld; Gadget now stays grounded to one single city known as Riverton, and goes out serving justice to the regular small-time criminals plaguing the city. This then turned the Chief into a regular police chief rather than someone similar to The Chief in Get Smart, who could send Gadget anywhere. Gadget thereby becomes less interesting because he isn’t an international hero, and the Chief becomes less important because he turns into just your regular run-of-the-mill “angry police chief,” fed-up with Gadget’s goofy antics.

Chief Quimby was never like this in the show: he always supported Gadget, he always trusted him with solving the crime and saving the day; even when Gadget nearly kills him in every episode tossing those exploding notes in his general direction.

The one nice thing I can say about the changes made to the chief from the first movie compared to the sequel; is that the chief is a little bit more goofy and cartoonish here. He’s played by an actual character actor with an active voice and round face, rather than the stuffy and stand-offish Dabney Coleman from the first film.

 

Penny and Brain:

Once again, Penny just “barely” resembles her cartoon counterpart. She attempts to be more involved in the crime-solving business this time around, but she comes off more like Emma Roberts in Nancy Drew (2007) than Penny. In fact, the chief in this movie makes fun of her by calling her Nancy Drew. Penny in the cartoon was tech-savvy, she could build her own personal gadgets and tools, she had a talking dog for Pete’s sake; and she was always the one that solved the crimes: not her uncle Gadget. So why is it that the movies can’t still do that?

The show was called Inspector Gadget, yes; but that didn’t mean that Gadget was the one calling all of the shots. At least in this sequel they allowed Penny the chance to seek out some clues and solve a rather substantial piece of the crime, rather than end up as a nearly useless background accessory like she was in the first film. They got the freakin’ girl from Harriet the Spy for Pete’s sake, and they didn’t think to use her more?!

Brain is still a normal dog, however; and he does not have his voice translator necklace from the previous movie’s end credits. But in an odd extraneous retcon, the writers repurposed that voice translator collar for a later scene where Gadget’s mechanic, Baxter, is working on designing one; which is then used later by Gadget to translate Brain’s barks into English. But this translator collar can also be found in Honey We Shrunk Ourselves, during a scene where Wayne Szalinski and his brother are taking a tour around the laboratory that they work for.

 

The Plot – The Good, the Bad, and the Different | Movie 1 Compared to Movie 2:

Now instead of comparing the sequel’s plot to the original cartoon, I’d like to compare it to just the first movie for a moment.

The first Inspector Gadget movie set up Gadget as a human security guard, who was turned Cyborg in order to save his life. And because of his newly implanted augmentations, he has abilities that allow him to do special tasks that no other officer on the force could do. Funny thing, though, the Chief of Police; after weeks and months and years of pre-planning and designing and a butt load of tax-payer dollars; has no intention of putting Gadget on high-profile and highly dangerous cases that he would clearly be more qualified to handle than your typical officer. Instead, he relegates Gadget to the small-fry issues and general public disturbances. What a load of bull! If you’re going to go through all the trouble to create the Gadget Program, then actually use the man for something useful.

In the sequel, the Chief still doesn’t trust Gadget (and somewhat rightly so) on big assignments, and keeps him working on the small cases and the minor issues. That is until they unveil their newest Gadget Program model, G2: who is one-hundred percent entirely cyborg, and is more than capable of handling any case, big or small; making Gadget stand as the prototype model. It sort of turns Inspector Gadget and Inspector Gadget 2 into the Robocop and Robocop 2 of family films. Same premise, same set-up, and similar sequel. The only difference is that Gadget gets a girlfriend. But oh, wait a second, he already had one.

That’s right, in a surprising turn of events, the makers of Inspector Gadget 2 decided to not only retcon Doctor Claw so that he could be closer to the cartoon, but they retconed Brenda Bradford from the movie’s universe so that Gadget could be closer to his cartoon counterpart, and fall in love with his female replacement: sort of a Bride of Frankenstein kind of thing.

Now while in most cases I get pretty pissed off when the love interest from the first movie gets deleted from history in the sequel, despite the protagonist working so hard to win their affection in the first place: I don’t mind that so much here. At least here they changed a lot of different things to make that one change not seem so out of place: and all of the changes are for the better. And I actually really like G2, played by Elaine Hendrix. We’ll get to her in a moment.

Something else I like about this sequel is its CGI. You might call me crazy for thinking so, but even though the CGI looks obviously fake here, at least it’s fun, at least it has creativity and energy. It allows the world of Inspector Gadget to not be too realistic and serious. All of the gadgets have big white gloved hands on them, their bright and multi-colored (even more-so than the first film); the gags that they do with the gadgets aren’t nearly as dumb (quite a few are actually humorous), and the animators had more fun with the Inspector’s extendable head and arms. Even the integration of the CGI into the live-action footage doesn’t look half bad: it feels like everything digital is affecting the real environment. The lighting and the textures might not be up to snuff, though, but that doesn’t really matter to me in this case.

Believe me, sometimes it isn’t always because the makers of the film are lazy. Sometimes they’re just doing the best with what they have. They only had $12,000,000 to make this movie you know.

Now the first film wasn’t trying to be realistic with its gags and CGI either; but it had a bit more grit and edge to it that I didn’t care for. Things looked too freaky and creepy and dirty: like when Sykes was trying to flush that robo-foot, or when Evil Gadget had that Tarantula come out of his mouth. I do like edge and grit, but it has to be the right kind, and that just wasn’t it. Here at least they went all cartoony (in all the right ways) and had some wholesome fun with the world, the characters, and the dialogue. They were TRYING to be like a cartoon.

 

The Plot – The Good, the Bad, and the Different | Both Movie’s compared to the Series:

Now what if we DO compare the first movie’s plot with the show, and then the second movie’s plot to the show? Which would be closer?

Well let’s see:

The first movie’s plot was about Inspector Gadget proving himself the perfect police operative while also trying to win over his crush, Brenda Bradford; as Sanford Scolex (aka Doctor Claw) was attempting to steal prototype Cyborg technology in order to fashion together his own evil robotic army and take over the world.

Yeah. Really. That was his plan.

For some reason I never actually noticed what his plan was. I just sort of thought things were happening and Claw just wanted to mess around with Riverton for a bit with his Evil Gadget clone. And in hindsight, it just sounds so stupid to think that pouty-faced Rupert Everett would want to take over the world with an army of robotic minions. He’s no more able to be taken serious here than he was in Shrek 2 or Shrek 3 as Prince Charming.

Also, we only ever see one piece of this supposed robot army come to life; where-as in most Inspector Gadget stories, Doctor Claw has the majority of his plan ready to set into motion, only until Gadget comes bumbling in to mess it all up and destroy the whole thing.

Now the sequel definitely takes things much further and comes up with an evil scheme that only someone like Doctor Drakken or Doofenschmirtz could come up with: a time-freezing laser-weapon. It’s absurd, yes. It’s ridiculous, yes. There’s absolutely no science behind it, yes. And the diamond being a prism through which the laser has to fire in order to work has been done in a ton of other stuff including The Power Puff Girls and Looney Tunes Back in Action, yes. But at least there is a clear beginning, middle, and end to this plan. At least Claw actually has clear-cut ambitions and we actually see him succeed for a few scenes. That’s how you’re supposed to make it work. Otherwise the villain doesn’t look like he/she has a plan at all, and it doesn’t look like he/she knows what they’re doing.

 

The New Addition, G2 – The Female Gadget:

G2, played by Elaine Hendrix, is thankfully a nice “original” addition to the film. She may not be the most convincing robot in a film: Anthony Daniels as C3-PO, Peter Weller as Robocop, or Alan Tudyk as Sonny from I, Robot were far superior. But in a film of this caliber, she clearly enjoys her role and she gives the performance you would expect. Appearance-wise, she’s good casting for her size and stature; very straight-laced and generally attractive facial features to mirror what one might do when designing a female robot. Although someone like the Major from Ghost in the Shell is more physically buff.

The costume is also a nice touch. This time G2 is a fully designed robotic operative rather than an augmented human; so they were able to design a full costume for her that would be permanently part of her physiology. I like the metallic blue tons, I love her long cuffs, and I really love the hat.

The one question I’d like to bring up is, isn’t G2 Gadget’s sister? They’re part of the same line of robots, they both run on the same chips and technology. So then why shouldn’t they be related siblings? Why do they have to become lovers by the end? I know it still sort of works and that they removed Brenda Bradford, so making G2 Gadget’s new girlfriend was the obvious course of action. But by this point in the early 2000s, the Bride of Frankenstein thing has been done enough, and making the new female robot/creature/thing be the protagonist’s sister rather than mate would be a good change of pace.

 

Final Thoughts:

Between the two Gadget films, there’s no denying that the spirit of the show has a stronger hold in the sequel. The 1999 film with Matthew Broderek attempted to make the show cinematic by changing too much and reducing elements to their basic form in order to alter them to fit a more Hollywood-style script. If a movie about Gadget had been made in the 1980s, then perhaps it would have been a bit more accurate. They might have even gave him his trademark all-gray suit and brown gloves.

Now for those of you out there who think the first movie is stupid, but who also think this movie is even stupider: Have you ever stopped to think for a minute about what you’re really complaining about? Not every movie that has dopey gags or actors that chew scenery or CGI that might look unfinished has to be brutally criticized or universally hated for not being as impressive as something else. Sometimes movies like these are made by people who love what they do, who have fun doing what they do, and are proud of their work when it’s finished. We love Tim Currey when he does it, we love Christopher Walken when he does it, and some of you out there enjoyed Pee-Wee Herman and Earnest when they did it. So what’s wrong with French Stewart doing it? And you know what? This movie does not insult me.

The Scooby Doo movie insults me with its weak casting, the Yogi Bear movie insults me with its lame premise and lame villain, and the Smurfs and the Chipmunks movies insult me with their endlessly annoying protagonists; but this movie does not. Why? Because out of all the possible ways that one could adapt the world of Inspector Gadget, this is probably the best way it could have been done. You really can’t expect much more than this. It is possible to get even closer to the cartoon, but it’s very unlikely that anyone other than a group of fan-filmmakers could give you such a movie. But even then, you aren’t always guaranteed to get the version that ”you’d” want to see.

Just look at the recent Sonic Fan Film. That project had way too much live action footage, way too many cameos of famous internet celebrities, and really lousy CGI. It’s pretty much exactly the same as any other Hollywood adaptation, unnecessary changes and all. The most accurate that film ever got to the games was with Robotnic. Everything else was either modeled after Sonic-X and Sonic Adventure; which I don’t think Old-school fans are really clamoring for. It should have been modeled after Sonic Sat-AM or the original games. I’ve always really wanted to see a Sonic movie that accurately recreated the fun and adventure of Sonic 1, 2, and 3/Knuckles. But that still hasn’t happened.

So for an Inspector Gadget film, this sequel is not only a better representation of its source material, but I think it does a better job of it than a Sonic Fan Film representing its source material. And it’s the best we’ll get for now.

 

Creating a live-action cartoon is never easy. Live-action actors don’t always have the physicality to pull off the cartoonish movements or the facial expressions; and often live-action screenwriters don’t have the same sensibilities as cartoon writers. But I think out of a ton of different cartoonish movies out there, I can easily put Inspector Gadget 2 in the same category as The Mask and the first two Spy Kids films. It honestly isn’t far off.

Inspector Gadget 2 has good casting, decent direction, impressively wacky stunt choreography, and just plain ole’ good fun. And it is so much more worth your money than the first film. Trust me. You just have to have an open mind about it.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZYLJsVEjr0

It is perhaps precisely the duty of this blog to not only warn against the box office bombs and dime-store garbage films, but to shed light on those titles that are instantly and incorrectly labelled as “crap” just because they are direct-to-video sequels to really good movies. Many such films are called out as “Cash-grabs,” and rightly so in most cases, if not all. But if you take a careful and close look at Balto 2: Wolf Quest, you may come to realize that this “cash-grab” isn’t as dumb and watered-down as you may have been led to believe: especially after so many Disney and Land Before Time sequels. Whereas Lady and the Tramp 2: Scamp’s Adventure and The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea rehashed the whole first film with the children of the parents, this movie goes a similar route, but works to “advance” the story of Balto and his struggles in life, rather than retreading the same exact territory.

If you don’t remember the story, Balto was a mutt: half husky, half pure-bred white wolf (even though in real life he was all Husky). And during the course of the first film, Balto had to overcome the prejudice of his peers and the lack of faith in himself, in order to save the town of Nome, Alaska from losing all of its children to an epidemic of diphtheria. And so, after mustering up all of his good will and determination, he tracked the sled dog team that had been sent out to retrieve the anti-toxin; and led the team back to Nome in record time. Despite the major plot-hole where the token villain, Steel, managed to get back to Nome nearly 36 hours before Balto could.

Anyway, this time, in the sequel, Balto, now living with his girlfriend, Jenna; have given birth to a litter of pups: one of which is more wolf than dog. The little baby wolf’s name is Aleu; and throughout the course of her early life, she is unaware that she is different than the other dogs. She has no idea that she is a wolf. Balto had made the (albeit unwise) decision to keep this from Aleu, in the hope that some human would come to accept her.

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But one day, a hunter points a gun on Aleu, attempting to snatch some food for the week. Balto and his friends manage to ward off the hunter, but Aleu is completely caught off guard by the turn of events. Balto then explains to her what she is, and she is so distressed and feels so betrayed that she runs off into the wilderness.

The rest of the film follows father and daughter as Balto attempts to make sense of his reoccurring dreams, and Aleu attempts to find out “who” she really is, not just “what” she is.

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The thing that inevitably plagues all sequels to popular animated films, is that they always turn into musicals with at least 3-5 songs; even if the original film had no songs to speak of. But I am here to say that the songs here aren’t so bad. They’re well sung, they’re okay lyric-wise, some even have an effective hook and message that sticks with you.

The major stand-out here, though, is the song entitled “Who You Really Are;” which was sung by voice actor Peter MacNicol. At this point in the film, Aleu has gone pretty far out into the mountains, and tries to look for shelter from a rain storm. She finds a cave, and upon going inside, discovers a mouse singing next to a bundle of crystals. The mouse introduces himself as Muru, and listens to Aleu’s problems. Then he shifts some of the crystals around so that the light from the ceiling can bounce between them: mirroring the imagery we saw in the first film. This time the bouncing light illuminates a wall of paintings representing the spirit animals of all living creatures.

The song “Who You Really Are” begins; and in a very mystical and tribal style, Muru suggests to Aleu that she should go on a search to figure out who she is rather than continue to cling to what she think she is. Then, after the song ends, it is revealed that the little mouse was a spirit animal himself, and that he is Aleu’s spirit animal. This song is perhaps the key moment in the film where Aleu begins to understand how she can discover who she is and what she is capable of. The song also obviously sounds quite a bit like “Who Are You” from C.S.I, written by Pete Townshend. So that was a little funny.

 

Now as is per-usual, is the animation better or worse than the first film? Well of course it isn’t better, “but it ain’t half-bad neither.” The character design and animation is actually really close to the first in a lot of ways. Balto’s body structure and facial structure is nearly a perfect match to the first film. Every which way he moves it look no different. So that’s an extremely welcome surprise. Boris, Muk and Luk, and Jenna also have no design changes compared to the first film.

The animation itself may shift in quality from time to time. For instance, in slower, dialogue filled moments; the animation is really solid. It flows well, there’s attention to detail in expression and movement, and none of it looks choppy or irregular. Other scenes, such as Balto’s repeating nightmare, look a little less impressive: both in part to the very weak CGI rendered backgrounds, but also to the downgrade in Balto’s animation loops. His running animation looks stilted, his other movements are rocky, and it seems like the digital integration of Balto into the 3D backgrounds is a bit hit-and-miss as well. But I think the CGI-only elements are the worst looking thing about this sequel. The 2D animation, in general, is a bit better than some TV movies at the time, so it does its job admirably.

 

On the voice acting side, we have a surprisingly perfect performance from fan-favorite, Maurice Lamarch, as the sequel-stand-in for Kevin Bacon’s Balto. Lamarch is able to capture a similar soft gruffness and “30-something swagger” that Bacon’s voice had; allowing him to match the tone and personality of Balto rather fittingly. Another surprise was Charles Fleischer as Boris: because Bob Hoskins played Boris in the original, and Charles Fleischer played opposite Hoskins as the voice of Roger Rabbit. And so because of this, both stars from Who Framed Roger Rabbit ended up playing the same character. How weird is that?

Charles does a pretty impressive job imitating Bob’s Russian accent, by the way. He doesn’t always quite sound like him, but most of the time you might not even notice it isn’t Hoskins.

Two more notable additions to the cast include the late David Carradine, performing another one of his trade-mark “Native American/Inuit Wise Man” voices. I also mentioned him before in a previous review, where Carradine played the chief of a Lenape tribe of mice living beneath Manhattan in American Tail (3): The Treasure of Manhattan Island. The other notable actor is someone we haven’t gotten to hear in a film yet; Mark Hamill: who has made a name for himself in the past few decades for playing mostly slimy and creepy villains, but also a few gruff-sounding heroes like Wolverine and Skips from Regular Show. Here, Hamill plays Niju: a greedy and self-righteous decenter of a wolf clan led by Carradine’s character, Nava.

Voice actress Lacey Chabert, who I also mentioned in my American Tail (3) review, plays Balto’s daughter, Aleu. And gives us her typical honest young female performance. I’ll admit, her performances aren’t stellar, and her voice isn’t the most interesting young female voice I’ve heard. But she does have a pleasant and enjoyable manner.

In a case of underused talent, Jodie Benson (the voice of Ariel the little mermaid) replaces Bridget Fonda as Jenna. As far as I can remember, she doesn’t get to sing a single song. And she is perhaps the one VA in the whole film who speaks the least.

 

There are a few noticeable bad points about this film, but with what I’ve already told you, they aren’t the worst things in the world; just a bit disappointing.

For one thing, the writers apparently felt they still needed an out-and-out villain in this film, despite this being a movie about discovering yourself (which shouldn’t require a specific antagonist character). So they decided to rehash Steel, but turn him into the envious and spiteful wolf character named Niju. This character is only there in order to stand as a living obstacle for Aleu and Balto to over-come, rather than overcoming a personal fear or an unbiased act of nature. But ultimately, Niju proves to be disappointing even if his character was not extraneous, because he chickens out at the end and doesn’t follow-through on his self-centered interests. Or perhaps he does, depending on how you look at it.

The other problem I had was that the rest of the cast is so underused. Boris the Goose (Balto’s surrogate father), Muk and Luk (the Polarbears), and Jenna (Balto’s girlfriend) all return for this one; but after the 25 minute mark, they are all left behind so that Balto and Aleu can go on a journey alone. And while that might not sound like a problem, I wish they would have shown what happened after Aleu made her life-changing decision, so that we could see how everyone (especially Jenna) took the news. Muk and Luk are probably the most underused, but they were never integral anyway. They were always just there for fluffy and cuddly comic relief.

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For a sequel to the original Balto film, I think it performs better than other DTV sequels in that it doesn’t rehash the first film with the children of the main character(s). Instead, it takes them and gives them their own story of discovery that actually gives both the child and the original character some much needed guidance, understanding, and closure.

I suppose I wouldn’t say it’s worth any of you adults buying it for yourselves. Many of the sequels that I will review will be much the same way. But I will say that I think this movie is more than a worth-while purchase for your own children. It isn’t lazy, it isn’t lame or stupid, it doesn’t talk down to the audience, and it may just teach your kids a few things to think about over their developing years. It’s always good to get them thinking about their futures early.

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