Category Archives: Direct-to-TV

DTV Wonders: The Hobbit (1977)

It is not actually Direct-to-video, but Direct-to-TV.  I decided that is close enough for the best Hobbit movie.  This is a traditional animated film by Rankin and Bass using the resources that would become Studio Ghibli.

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It opens with the book being opened and Gandalf narrating about Hobbits.  Gandalf is awesome as expected.  He is powerful, yet wise.

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Bilbo is much fatter than he is in Peter Jackson’s version, and he is more aggravated to realize a wizard came to him.  The Dwarves immediately show up and sing “That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates.”  They eat all his food quickly.  Like in Jackson’s version Bilbo is scared of dying, but unlike Jackson’s films he is immediately interested in seeing the rest of Middle Earth.

 

The Song “Greatest Adventure plays when he sleeps. He early on wakes up in the middle of the night and realizes he wants to go when he stares at the full moon like nature is calling for him to go.  He then dream about being a king with everyone loving him at the lyrics “a man who’s a dreamer…” The song describes what he will not find if he stays like passion and fun.  This is a great credit song and it only comes in about nine minutes into the movie.

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Once they actually start leaving Bilbo quickly misses his home and tries to comfort himself by thinking of it.  It gets worse when Thorin, the Dwarf leader, pressures him into robbing trolls.  In Jackson’s version the trolls had already robbed them, but here they were not bothering them at all, as Rankin and Bass used a more negative portrayal of the dwarves.  I think that is more accurate to the book.  Bilbo is caught and then the rest of the dwarves, but Bilbo escapes to a cave since the trolls are okay with losing the teeny snack.  So far so good, useful wizard and everyone else is useless like in Tolkien’s book.  Gandalf saves them, and while Thorin is mad at Bilbo, he did find the cave of the trolls’ treasure which includes swords.  Here another distinction occurs between the animated and live-action dwarves.  The animated ones seem to have no weapons before now or plan at all.  They really are helpless without Bilbo and Gandalf.  Even worse Thorin has no map reading abilities.  When Gandalf leaves Thorin gets them to sleep in a cave which is “the perfect place.”

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They are all captured, but Bilbo again escapes.  The dwarves are saved by Gandalf, while Bilbo is lost and confronted by Gollum.  Gollum’s voice cannot compare to Andy Serkis’s performance or his great performance is Bakshi’s film, but his design is notably different in a good way. He looks like a frog-human hybrid, and he looks like a physical threat.  The riddle game goes like it does in the books, and Bilbo uses his new magic ring to escape.

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In one scene a dwarf saves Bilbo from Wargs, and I think this is the only time a dwarf is helpful.  At Mirkwood forest Gandalf leaves and appoints Bilbo as his surrogate and group scribe.

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Bilbo is forced to climb a tree.  “I couldn’t argue.  My contract is vague on several points.”  A funny attack on loopholes there, and when he sees how pretty Mirkwood looks he realizes he wants to be there adventuring, not back in his home, a huge change from the beginning of the film.  Unfortunately the rest of Mirkwood is not well made by the film.  He saves the dwarves from spiders, but the stabbing animation is bad making the scene pale compared to its book counterpart.  Also “the wood elves have returned.”  That appearance was deleted making a plot hole.

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Also they look nothing like Elrond, and this design is not good.  Fortunately getting them out is a great scene demonstrating Bilbo’s intelligence, the rivalry between dwarves and elves, and it is ironically way less cartoony than the live-action version.  One notable thing is the movie is only seventy-seven minutes long.  The dwarves are mostly extras (which is better than they were in Jackson’s version).  At Laketown the people also get demoted to extra.  Only their future king seems to have lines, as they are just a brief stop.

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Bilbo on the mountain befriends a bird, the Thrush.  He finds the entrance to the mountain in a much better scene than what Jackson used due to the better pacing.  Then Thorin says Bilbo needs to go earn his 1/14th of the treasure.  That is how it happened in the book where Thorin ignores all Bilbo has done for them, and Bilbo points out his contract never said he had to save them from spiders and elves.  to his disappointment nobody comes to help except Thrush.

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Smaug here is magnificent.  Instead of a generic dragon design he looks like a mammal.  His actor Richard Boone, makes him sound like he is from a Western, and it works for something so powerful.  Some find his design too fat, but I did notice until a few watches.  He does decide the burglar is from Laketown.  To save them Bilbo sends the Thrush to warn them about his one weak spot, which results in their future king slaying the dragon. Back with the company only Bilbo shows any interest in the men’s safety, and Bilbo begins to act like the leader.  When the dragon attacks he guides them to safety and gets everyone else in first.  He then leads them to he gate out against Thorin’s will.  It ends with the Battle of the Five Armies.  No dragon sickness it is just the dwarves are greedy, the elf king wants his old treasure despite having been a pain, and the men feel entitled to something after killing the dragon. Bilbo wants to give up fractions of the treasure since there is plenty, but Thorin says he does not understand war.  These few minutes have more weight than the last Hobbit film.  Bilbo hopes to be captured resulting in Thorin calling him a coward.  Bilbo responds that he has been heroic while Thorin has hid. Gandalf then warns them about the attacking goblins.  Humorously the three kings then call each other their closest friends and brothers, as they join against a common enemy.  In the book only three dwarves die.  Here seven die.  Thorin thanks Bilbo for his work, as Bilbo arrives back at the Shire with some gold and the film ends with the ring shining indicating a sequel made by different people.

The animation is the weakness.  I like the designs, but movement and fighting are lackluster, and it sticks out at times that they were squeezing their dimes.

I hate to keep putting down Jackson’s work (especially with all the good he has done for the books), but this is better than his trilogy.  Bilbo does not become a side character, the plot is faster paced, elves do not take over, it has better humor, very good songs, interesting designs mostly, and it always felt faithful to the children’s story it was based off.

 

 

 

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DTV Wonders: Scooby-Doo in Arabian Knights

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Scooby-Doo as a franchise has been around since 1969 menaing it will turn 50 next year, and this film nearly killed it at age 25 in 1994.  A Pup Named Scooby-Doo ended in 1991 and no new Scooby-doo episodes were made until 2002 due to the franchise being saved in 1998 by Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island.  Now as a fan of the franchise I had to check out what nearly killed it.

It starts with Scooby-Doo and Shaggy having a magic carpet taxi ride.  The animation is changed to better match the frame story, but that looks distractedly odd.  To make it worse no one’s mouth closes all the way, until they do in the frame stories.

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They arrive and get a job as a royal food tester.  They then eat everything, realize they are professional poison checkers and will die from it.  They then also realize the Caliph now has no food and will kill them for it.

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They accidently break his glasses and Shaggy hides in drag.  The blind Caliph mistakes Shaggy for a suitor and his future wife thinking he is beautiful, smart, and witty.  Clearly he needs a woman with the last two traits to complete him.  Shaggy’s brilliant plan is then to tell him a story so boring it will put him to sleep.  I suggest remembering that audience.  Shaggy thinks the most boring story is about Yogi Bear in a rip-off of Disney’s Aladdin.  There many good descriptions of Aladdin and Yogi-Bear but boring is not one of them.

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Frame story one is Aladdin (the Disney version) but gender flopped with Aliyah-Din.  I will definitely hate her more now that I have to constantly type that name.  Just replace the Blue genie with Yogi-Bear as a genie and this is what the film uses in 1994, two years after it came out.  It has many problems like most of Yogi’s jokes are him begging his master to wish for a picnic basket, which he does constantly.  The Prince (no name given) does a big speech about not falling for love at first sight, which is then exactly how he falls in love (lust to be exact) for Aliyah-Din.  Jafar’s counterpart has a boss who is an emerald voiced by Tony Jay.  He then disappears after one scene making him pointless and a waste of money in hiring Jay and animating it.  Its climax and twist ending is just awful.  Also it is just a dull rushed version of the Disney film, and overall it is not good and takes up way too much of the film.

It does have some redeeming qualities.  Aliyah-Din wears a light brown cloak mostly, and with how few female protagonists do that it is refreshingly different.  While this is clearly a coincidence it also has two genies (Yogi and Boo-Boo) just like the original story.

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The big help is Jafar’s counterpart Haman.  I legitimately like watching him.  I do not like the Jafar archetype, an obviously evil villain who is already high up and wants to go a little higher.   There is nothing about Haman’s appearance that indicates villain and for any viewers who have not seen the Disney film will probably be surprised he is the bad guy until it is revealed.  He also does not rely on a magic mind control staff.  He is simply good with his words and legitimately convincing that he is just trying to help, and many of his scenes from Disney’s Aladdin are an improvement because of that.  One reason Prince is not married is Haman is telling him he should not rush marriage choices, a good message that most people would listen to, and it fits his agenda of keeping the Sultan heirless to help him take over later.  How does he get Aliyah-Din to enter the cave?  He tells her the Sultan has a great disease and only the lamp can save him.  He tells her it very humbly and is very polite.  Even when he snaps he apologizes saying that his brief anger was due to his worry about the Sultan’s health (very reasonable).  While the villain cannot save the film he is a major benefit keeping it watchable.

This story takes up most of the runtime, and apparently Scooby-Doo in Arabian Knights lacks a certain thing promised, like Scooby-Doo characters.  Yogi-Bear should have been marketed.  Yikes Aliyah-din only takes up 34 minutes?  It felt way longer.  Well as expected this does not put the Caliphate to sleep.  Surprisingly he does love the story and is even more in love with Shaggy.  Shaggy now makes the right choice to tell him an unromantic comedy, and this is actually a big improvement and the only full part worth the watch.  It stars the mostly forgotten Hanna-Barberra character, Magilla Gorilla.

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This next part is simple good comedy with Magilla mistaking Sinbad’s raiding ship as a cruise ship.  They then hunt down various treasures with hijinks ensuing.  There are still two problems.  The previous story is just boring and by this time I am not interested any more.  Also the first treasure hunt is the longest and also not fun to watch.  The second one is the great one which involves Magilla and Sinbad being on a roller coaster with jewels all around it, as they try to steal the valuables while avoiding all the death threats.  This is also where Sinbad becomes a great comedic villain.  He has a good mix of legitimately caring for Magilla and the flaw of being more interested in the treasure.  The third voyage is mixed, but Sinbad keeps it funny.  When Sinbad loses everything I am kind of sad to see it, because I really enjoyed him and felt he was going through character development from a greedy criminal to a caring boss.

The film ends with the Caliph deciding the fun of the stories made him forget his hunger.  Shaggy and Scooby are made royal story tellers.

This film fails in context.  It should have been advertised as a Hanna-Barberra film, not Scooby-Doo who hardly has any role.  The Sinbad story should have been first.  Give the audience a short good comedy before the main event that way they could enjoy the better one and then at least go into the second one already happy.  If not that then greatly shorten the Aladdin story and make Sinbad more than a comedy by adding in a real arc for Sinbad.  That had plenty of potential for it, but it was only treated as a tacked on epilogue to the main event despite being vastly superior.  While not the worst Scooby-Doo movie I have seen it is the one I think the fewest people would like. It is really bad.