Animated Shorts: Watchmen Motion Comic, Black Freighter

Animated Shorts: Watchmen DVDs

There have been and are some interesting DVDs coming out this month. Time to highlight three in particular.

cover of the 'Watchmen Motion Comic' DVD
cover of the 'Watchmen Motion Comic' DVD
Cover of the 'Watchmen Motion Comic' DVD

THE WATCHMEN MOTION COMIC (2 DVDS) (Warner Premiere)

TALES OF THE BLACK FREIGHTER/UNDER THE HOOD (Warner Premiere)

Release dates:

Motion Comic: out now

Black Freighter: March 24th

You knew that a film with ambitions as big as Watchmen was going to generate its share of sundry side products. I think we all hoped a little more discretion was involved, however.

The Watchmen Motion Comic is apparently for people just too damn lazy to read the graphic novel. Pulling together the chapters of the Warner Premiere Motion Comic, this DVD set takes the various pages and panels from Moore/Gibbons’ seminal work and animates them as minimally as possible. The end result looks even worse than either Clutch Cargo or the original Mighty Marvel Hour. It’s one serious, 5 hour long eyesore.

If that isn’t enough, whoever is responsible for the voice casting in particular should be taken behind the woodshed. Narrator Tom Stechschulte barely holds his own with most of the characters, and is quite frankly completely unconvincing when he tries to voice a wide range of them ranging from Rorschach to both Silk Spectres. You’d think with the millions upon millions spent on the film, they could have spent a few extra thousand to put in a full radio-style voice cast.

Nope. This one was done totally on the cheap and is virtually impossible to get through. Save your money. Get the book. Play the drama in your own head. You’ll be much better for it.

cover to 'Tales of the Black Freighter/Under the Hood'
cover to 'Tales of the Black Freighter/Under the Hood'
Cover to 'Tales of the Black Freighter/Under the Hood'

Now for as abysmal as the Motion Comic truly was, Black Freighter/Under the Hood is just the opposite. The first is an animated featurette directed by relative unknowns Mike Smith and Daniel DelPurgatorio though the Canadian studio Reel FX (not Bruce Timm’s DCAU crew). These two takes what also looks like a very tight budget and come up with a highly expressive and superbly acted rendering of this dark romance. The animation reminds one of the best of Tad Stone’s Hellboy work, only done in a much less exaggerated style. It complements the mood of the actual story to a T.

Not only should Mr. Moore be proud of this pirate's tale extracted from the original Watchmen series, but spiritual forefathers ranging from Nathaniel Hawthorne to August Derelith would have been proud to have called this macabre masterpiece their own.

Compounding the experience is the inclusion of Eric Matthies short adaptation Under The Hood. Set inside a fictional news broadcast entitled The Culpepper Report, starring Ted Friend as the show’s lead reporter, Culpepper recalls an interview he did of Hollis Mason, the original Night Owl, ten years back [from the 1985 setting of the film] in 1975, when Mason published his autobiography of the same name. Exceedingly well acted and honestly witty, it’s a great complement to Zack Synder’s feature film in every sense of the word. If Hollywood continues to do extra content like this, I for one wouldn’t mind.

So, in total, we have two complete extremes here, both spun off from the same source material. Ones comes off as absolutely horrific, the other is something you’d want to play over and over again.

PINNOCHIO 70TH ANNIVERSARY DVD COLLECTION

Cover to the 'Pinocchio 70th Anniversary' DVD collection
Cover to the 'Pinocchio 70th Anniversary' DVD collection
Cover to the 'Pinocchio 70th Anniversary' DVD collection

You don't have to be an animation historian to know Walt Disney was riding high after the popular and box office success of 1937's Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs. Proving animation wasn't strictly a medium for Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony shorts, Snow White showed that a full-length animated feature film could generate a healthy return on its investment. And theater owners of there era were screaming for more Disney animated feature films with - according to many sources - “more dwarves.”

But Disney's quandary was how would he top himself? As explained in the superlative extra content provided in the new Pinocchio 70th Anniversary DVD collection, Uncle Walt decided against the easy route, doing a Snow White sequel (he’d leave that to the less imaginative people who ran his company the last days of the millennium). His second animated feature film would based on another fairy tale, but it would be Carlo Collodi’s classic Italian series about the puppet who wanted to be a boy. There would be no more Disney princesses for another two decades.

On the production front, Disney pulled out all the stops when it came to talent. Many a future legendary name was on the job for Pinocchio, including all of Disney’s up-and-coming Nine Old Men, Mel Blanc, T. Hee and legendary newspaper comic strip artist Oskar Fischinger. Realizing that the original Pinocchio was a snotty punk who hammered his cricket companion to death, Disney "retconned" the entire fable into an admittedly more schmaltzy, family-friendly affair, but still packed with dark moments of near surreal horror.

If the film did have one true star though, it was future Old Man Ward Kimball. At only the ripe age of 25, Kimball transformed that previously hammered cricket into the now beloved Jiminy C. With the voice of Cliff Edwards and two incredible songs, “When You Wish Upon a Star” and “Give a Little Whistle,” Jiminy Cricket hopped, skipped, and sang his way into the hearts of moviegoers, becoming one of the most recognized characters in the Disney universe, just under the 'Original Six' and right up there with Tinkerbell.

But the story of Disney's Pinocchio was not a fairy tale at first. The film, which cost a whopping $2.6 million in World War II era dollars initially lost money. Not even exhibited in Europe due to the war, it netted an initial $1.9 million in its first run. It also didn’t help that Collodi’s nephew sued Disney for the extreme liberties Uncle Walt took for the story.

On the plus front though, while the critical acceptance of Snow White was huge, the reaction to Pinocchio was through the roof. The film won two Oscars, Best Song and Best Score, among many other critical kudos. It is still ranked as one of the greatest animated feature films of all time, from sources as diverse as traditional film critics like John Canemaker and Leonard Maltin, to extreme film makers such as Terry Gilliam.

All this is encapsulated in this superlative three DVD set, which includes both a traditional DVD release as well as Blu-ray and download-able Digital version. As always, there are all manner of games and music bits for the younger kids, and lots of historical extra content for us older ones. In all, if you consider yourself any kind of serious animation fan, you have to have this in your collection.

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