Category Archives: Direct-to-Video

DTV Wonders: Batman Beyond The Return of the Joker

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“Batman the Animated Series” was a huge hit, and is sometimes called the greatest TV show ever.  It was known for its atmospheric stories and literally dark art. They only used black paper to draw it.  The executives told the creators, Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Alan Burnett to make a futuristic child Batman with a younger brother and a team pet. This was supposed to make it more kid friendly, and instead it became more adult than The Animated Series.  The child Batman, Terry McGinnis was a high school teenager who used to be in JV who is a brooder most of the time with a murdered father. The younger brother was a very minor character more in common with Flash Thompson than anything Warner Bros had in mind, and the pet was a rottweiler/German shepherd hybrid who hated Terry. Old Bruce Wayne was increasingly alone and miserable compared to his younger self, and the new high school always was dealing with some sort of realistic danger like drugs, murderous personal feuds, and gangs.  This resulted in a mix of Spider-Man and Batman, and  the creators masterfully combined them. This resulted in a big hit and a film was ordered during the second season. The creators realized they needed a big gimmick for the movie to stick out and not sound like it was just a long episode.

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Take careful notes Dreamworks.

They did this by breaking one of their rules for the show, villains. Their rule was they would not rely on the old Batman villains and instead make new ones like “Shriek,” their best one.  They occasionally brought old ones back like Mr. Freeze and Talia Al Ghul but only when they had an amazing story for them. By using them rarely (once a season) they stuck out as special. To help the movie seem special they brought back the biggest Batman villain…

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It wasn’t a popularity contest

… The Joker.

The opening is an action scene with the jokerz.  for those unfamiliar with the show they are a group of high schoolers who worship the joker as a symbol of rebelling against authority and are petty thieves.  Their line up changes each time, and this is the first time these clowns show up.  I saw the movie before the show and could figure out the basics about them. What I could not figure out was why one, Woof, was a hyena/man hybrid. In the future “splicing” was made to give people animal parts (officially as a fashion statement).  It also made them go insane and most were criminals or spliced supremacists.  The Jokerz are stealing technology and Batman shows up to stop them.  This fight is artistically good, but I do not think it works as an opening. The tone is too light, instead of setting up what the movie will be about thematically, adaptability

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Bruce and Terry realize the Jokerz were stealing some powerful technology that street gangs never rob, and they assume they are doing some corporate espionage for an employer. This red herring is reinforced when the news reveals Bruce is trying to regain control of Wayne Tech and Jordan Price (voiced by Mark Hamill) is in his way.  One major difference from the early episodes is you really see how much Bruce cares for Terry. Early on it was subtle, but now he makes no secret to Terry.

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Then comes one of the scariest parts of the movie.  the Jokerz send the motherboard they stole to The Joker who squashes it as worthless. Hamill is now voicing him with a much more restrained and menacing voice (the commentary said he hated that), and it is really chilling to go with his more muscled look and red eyes.  One of the henchmen, Bonk, accuses him of being a fraud and wants out.

“If you insist,” says Joker while pointing a gun at him.  the others look terrified like they have seen this before.

“Take it easy I was just kidding.”  A flag saying “bang” comes out of gun harmlessly.  The others look relieved until the flag then fires and impales Bonk in the heart killing him.

“So was I,” calmly says The Joker. He then sends the terrified Ghoul, Woof, Chucko, Dee, and Dee to attack Bruce Wayne.  This is a great villain scene. No sense of care for his underlings, yet incredibly resourceful and sick sense of humor. It also shows that Joker is now a bigger physcial threat than he used to be.

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They attack Bruce’s speech after a Joker laugh plays on the speakers.  The Dee Dee twins attack Bruce, and the way they describe him makes it seem like they know who he is.  (most Gothamites think the new Batman is really the old who found something to keep himself young). Then a figure comes up from a trapdoor and smiles at Bruce.  “…joker’s back in town.”

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I know the audience does not know at the time that Joker knows Bruce Wayne is Batman, but these scenes are much better knowing it. Terry shows up and Joker acts like he is at a high school reunion.  They proceed to escape after Woof beats up Terry.

Then we get to the movie’s worst scene. To protect Terry Bruce aggravates him until he quits being Batman.  How is getting the entire city destroyed due to their no longer being an active Batman going to keep him alive?  We then get an introductory scene to Terry’s family for the new audience members and Terry goes to party with his dull and universally hated girlfriend. Terry is happy for the freetime, as his busy life sucks. Some fans think Terry is a wish fulfillment, but he is not. His father was murdered by a billionaire, his Batman duties make him fail school, make his seem very irresponsible due to him constantly running of to put on the suit, and nobody but Bruce trusts him.  He hurt many people in the past making him have atonement issues. He is happy to find time to repair relationships, but the film abandons this idea quickly.

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The Jokerz attack Terry at a party, which is an intense fight, but previously done better. In the meantime while Bruce is making a joker anti-toxin he is attacked in the bat cave by Joker and physically completely outmatched.

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When Bruce does not answer the phone Terry realizes something is wrong and rushes over in the film’s scariest scene.  The music gets dark and slow, as it matches the slow and ominous new pacing. Terry finds Ace (Bruce’s dog) nearly unconscious and the entrance to the bat cave destroyed. He rushes down and finds Ha-Ha graffiti and Bruce Wayne finally laughing at the Joker from laughing gas.  He is able to point to the anti-toxin, but Bruce is now reduced to bed resting.

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One of the really notable parts is the graffiti.  It is a callback to the first episode, as Terry came home to his father’s murder and found graffiti like this (but green and purple, not blood red) everywhere. This is bringing back memories of his father’s death as he sees the potential death of his second father. As Ace watches Looney Tunes Terry goes to Barbara to get answers leading to the film’s most iconic scene.

In the flashback Joker and Harley Quinn kidnap Jason Todd (I know it is not his real film name), as Barbara and Batman try to find him for weeks until they are sent an invitation to Arkham.  They follow Quinn’s singing. They find some jokes and Joker and Quinn say they decided to start a family by adopting. To adopt they borrowed one of Batman’s “spare kids” to get Joker Jr. (JJ).

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Holy Surgery!  This soon results in a bloody and angry fight where Quinn falls to her death, while Batman chases Joker. Joker leads Batman to a video of him brainwashing Jason.  He then reveals he knows everything, and Batman’s secret is disappointing.  Batman is just a crying kid calling to mommy.  “Would be funy if it weren’t so paphetic… I’ll laugh anyway.”  Joker then decisively defeats Batman and decides the best way to finish him is to have his own sidekick shoot him. Jason has just enough in him to instead shoot Joker (same gun used to kill the henchman earlier).  After this Batman never had a partner until Terry.

What makes this scene so good?  Part of it is the villains’ demeanor.  They are sitting in a place designed to look like a home, they are acting more lovey dovey with each other, and Joker’s kiss the cook apron during the surgery.  They are such a perversion of the family making this really feel wrong like they think this is what parents do.  The real beauty is this scene makes every part of the movie before it so much better with all the rewatch bonuses.

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Terry thinks Jason might be involved and goes to his job (communications expert).  He eventually moved on and is clearly relating to Terry for working for Bruce like this. Terry then goes to check on Jordan Price. The Jokerz are there to kill him for being a lose end, as he helped them attack Bruce’s speech.  Terry saves him, and he sees that a satellite has fired a huge laser at the yacht.

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Now I was really interested in how Joker pulled this off. Bruce shows back up to the bat cave, and they try to figure out what is going on. Terry notices only Jason’s Robin costume was destroyed and Jason hates the suit more than anyone. They check on what everything Joker stole can do with the technical knowledge of Jason, and it is a laser fired from space. After discovering Jason is working for Joker the huge laser chases down the Bat plane and wrecks most of the city’s streets. He is saved by Joker oddly becoming exhausted.

Terry then defeats the Jokerz and finds Jason who fakes weakness only to then immobilize Terry (“batfake” as he calls him) and then transforms into Joker.  Previously Joker installed a chip of his consciousness (that should have been discovered) that allowed him to slowly take over Jason’s body briefly, and he stays in control longer each time. He is on the verge of doing it permanently and he got all of Jason’s techno skills and fighting skills. Joker debates about making ground zero something personal to Terry (make personal tragedy for the hero) or destroying Wayne manor.

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Terry breaks free and hits the controls sending the laser straight to them.  Then Joker and Terry battle with Joker having the upper hand due to knowing all of Batman’s moves in his prime.  Bruce tells Terry to tone it out, but Terry realizes he needs to win his way, which is the Joker’s game. He switches to fighting dirty and then he mocks Joker by using his speech to Bruce in the flashback.  Joker is just a guy who fell into chemicals and felt he then had to be a super villain instead of a rodeo clown.  He spent years trying to get a guy with no sense of humor to laugh and failed every time. His only ability to get a laugh is in how pathetic he is.  Joker completely collapses mentally until he finally catches Batman

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Batman then pulls out Joker’s own joy buzzer and uses it to destroy the chip turning him back into Jason.  This all makes me realize now Joker is the physical threat with Batman relying on misdirection and hiding to beat him, the opposite from The Animated Series.

The falling action is almost nothing as Terry just flies into the sunset.  Thankfully it is also revealed that Quin survived and the Dee Dee twins are her granddaughters for some needed comic relief.

It took me some time, but I think I found the theme, success requires adaptability to changing forces.  In the series, Bruce adapted by realizing he now needs to be the mentor instead of the hero.  In the movie he instead refuses to accept this and is beaten in his own bat cave.  Joker adapted by using Jason’s skills to beat up enemies and create weapons.  Terry adapted by using his skills, not Bruce’s skills, to psychoanalyze Joker and beat him at his own game.

The weakness is Terry.  In the show he has plenty of personality, but here is different.  Besides the climax he is mostly a blank slate personality wise who just reacts to every disaster.

The strength is Joker.  Every scene with him is great. The dark sense of humor always feels evil, yet it can bring in laughs too.

The movie has flaws for sure, but it is defiantly memorable and entertaining.  I recommend it to all Batman fans, and I plan on re-watching it within a year.

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DTV Wonders: Ultra Instinct Shaggy

This is actually called Scooby-Doo: Legend of the Phantosaur, but the scene where Shaggy beats up a biker gang is what everyone writes about.  It has become a huge source of memes, and now is the time to decide if the film is actually good or just an interesting scene.

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The opening credits are in a very abstract style, and I like this in spite of Velma and Fred’s weird hair. It helps to stick out from the hordes of Scooby-Doo films.  Some more good news is it has the same cast as the best series, “Mystery Incorporated.”

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The film plot starts with Shaggy violating the laws of physics by screaming for several days in a row, and the doctor is told why.  The gang explains it was only a normal day for them, chasing ghosts. The doctor is skeptical (defeating the Evil Entity did not make the news after all), and he says Shaggy has a rare condition, overactive fear stimuli.  He forbids Shaggy from entering the mystery machine.  Already he is my main suspect. Being good friends they go to “La Serena: The Least Haunted place in America.” I love this reference to Crystal Cove. They head there in the new “The Mustard Machine.”

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They stay with the eccentric Mr. Hubley, who jokes about dressing as a ghost to scare the locals off to buy their land. Safe to say he is the red herring. When getting food Scooby runs into the Phantosaur.

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I find the design lacking, but the atmosphere is silent, which helps the scary mood. Fred, Daphne, and Velma meet some other suspects/characters. like professor Svankmejer.

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Based on her design, which is not obviously evil, but somewhat stuck up looking I guess she is the villain. They also meet the worst character in the film, Winsor. Winsor looks like a male clone of Velma, and they fall in lust, and every scene with them is just slow.  Then the Phantosaur attacks destroying equipment and chasing everyone. We then get a much more intense chase scene than usual, no song and hardly any talking. Shaggy goes unconscious and Scooby carries him away long enough for Fred to ram the dinosaur with The Mustard Machine.  Hubley explains the legend of the Phantosaur. Native Americans made a curse on attacking Europeans by reviving an ancient monster (planing on a bear). It was a large sharptooth who instead drove out the natives and Europeans.

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Hubley then hypnotizes Shaggy into being fearless when he hears the word “bad.” He also accidentally hypnotizes himself into forgetting his own word, and only Scooby is even trying to find out the word.  This plot is dumb, but the mood is not that serious anyway, and it does set up the good stuff only one third into the run time.  Shaggy and Scooby go to an all you can eat diner and make the owner consider bankruptcy.

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Daphne finds off dinosaur tracks, and that is character re-railment.  In the first series Daphne’s main contribution is she was the most observant and best clue finder. It was not until “Mystery Incorporated she got that niche back.  Back with Shaggy he is told “bad” and become the fearless fighter who wipes out a biker gang in a fight.  The great part is the reaction from Scooby and all the locks and wrestling moves Shaggy uses. Then the leader, Tex, comes.

 

While surrounded by his beaten companions Tex challenges Shaggy to a friendly motorcycle race on Dead man’s peak, dead man’s tray, dead man’s bluff, dead man’s curve, and dead man’s avenue.  Shaggy accepts and proudly admits it will be his first ever motorcycle ride.  Tex is enthusiastic about Shaggy’s craziness and promises not to beat him too badly bringing back normal Shaggy.

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Fred and Daphne see two people from a mining company who are obvious red herrings.  They think it is solved except Fred “still hasn’t caught anyone in a net yet.”  Velma is too distracted by Winsor to be of any help.

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Before the motorcycle race Tex brings “other guy” back, and Ultra Instinct Shaggy has a small lead until Tex nearly falls to his death and Shaggy saves him.

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This is where it becomes clear that “Other Guy” is still Shaggy just missing the fear. He is still the same selfless guy, but now more heroic.  The Phantosaur attacks and Shaggy thinks “bad…” meaning Scooby has to save him. The bikers and the rest of Mystery Inc. flood out the mining inc guys and the Phantosaur’s circuits are fried.  The two are arrested and Daphne points out that was solved earlier than usual, as they are only at the 53 minute mark. They go back to Hubley’s home where the holograph technology is gone, and they find velociraptor claw marks and footprints. Then they find…

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Again this is lacking. Their introduction is too quickly paced for any sense of dread, and their animation is stiff. Granted it then gets good with slow, dreadful action and good sounds, but on a re-watch this is weird.  The dinosaurs are overweight college students who are trying to eat people.  They even eat a cake version of Scooby and Shaggy that was quickly made.  The raptors run outside where things are worse (except for the viewers).

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Now this is great. The dinosaur has fire breath, people are in terror, the plot is fast enough for action, but slow enough for the atmosphere.  The design is great.  The raptors get more drool.  Then Tex declares “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s ghost dinosaurs.” The gang tries scaring them off until they eventually leave. They go to the professor who is evacuating, and her students have already left.  Shaggy notices all the cars are still there even though the grad students supposedly just left.  Fred makes a successful trap with flame throwers and Professor and Winsor run away. It was a hologram with heated air.

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The professor found a preserved Allosaurus in the quartz and they needed to remove the town to get it out without anyone else noticing.  The entire crew of students was in on it.  They needed it out secretly and it was under public ground. It was the source of the Phantosaur myth, and they were inspired by the other fake Phantosaur. They use the explanation music from Mystery Incorporated, which I love. They had charges to blow the ground off, but they then go of due to a mistake Daphne makes meaning the cave they are all in is about to be mush.  Thankfully professor says “bad” bringing a new leader to action.

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In the very first episode of Scooby-Doo it was shown that Shaggy is a gymnast champion, and here he is jumping everywhere to get them to safety. He is doing all the work getting all seven out, and this is great. He is then one jump from getting out and getting help until Daphne says “not bad.” Scooby realizes the word but his impediment means he cannot say it or successfully communicate it. Shaggy is now panicking as the cave collapses, but Fred tells him everything Other Guy did is something he can do.  Normal Shaggy goes for it in a surprisingly slow and tense scene. He has to jump, climb, and jump on moving rocks.

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Peter Jackson, you plagiarist.

Shaggy makes the jump and finds Tex. He has ropes to get everyone out. He was there as he knew Shaggy could get out and his men camped at the only exit.

IS this good? In spite of its problems, yes. Like my last review it needed something that The Land Before Time sequels did so well, integrate different elements at the end for unity of plot.  This has really bad unity of plot with two different dinosaur plots and neither are very connected to awesome Shaggy. The pace is to fast at times for the film’s tone and Winsor is terrible bringing down Velma too.

Yet this is the second best Scooby-Doo movie.  Fred and Daphne are great in their limited role. It is nice seeing Scooby be so brave and smart, which are expected for a Mystery Incorporated type show. Shaggy is awesome and never disappointing. While the villains were too obvious Tex was great along with the other side characters like Hubley’s humor and the diner owner’s jokes.  The tone was refreshingly serious, and I like the moral. If you did something great then you can repeat it or something similar.  I recommend watching this.

DTV Wonders: Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghosts

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It is well accepted that the first four Scooby-Doo DTV films are mostly the best, and I agree with that.  The Scooby-Doo format works best as a twenty minute episode, and many of the films feel too long, but these four feel like movies and are entertaining all the way through.   The viewers near universally call Zombie Island the best, this one the second best, and Alien Invaders and Cyber Chase are debated as third and fourth best.  Sadly I found this underwhelming.  It is still a good film that I recommend to Scooby fans, but not as much as the other three.  The main reason it is underwhelming is it uses the same basic subversions Zombie Island used making it feel like the inferior version.  Still it is entertaining and I am happy to review it positively.

I am sure part of my problems are that I have incredibly little nostalgia for it.  I saw it at school supply stores where I saw the last twenty minutes, and another time I saw the first twenty minutes (it is sixty-six minutes long), and not until I was in college did I see it all the way through.

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It starts like Zombie Island with Mystery Inc. trying to catch a villain.  This time it is in a prehistoric museum, and that makes for some good atmosphere.  The two villains are tripped by a writer, Ben Ravencroft, who then captures them.  Velma is a big fan of his horror novels and seems to have a crush on him.   Ben offers to take them to his home in New England, Oak Haven.  They arrive to discover that it is now tourist based and supposedly haunted by the ghost of Ben’s ancestor, Sarah Ravencroft.

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Ben

Ben shows everyone a picture of Sarah and says she was a wonderful healer, which made the Puritans think she was a witch, and they executed her.  If she was executed that probably means she actually was in the middle of a family feud.  He insists she was actually a Wiccan, a good spell user…  What are the writers talking about?  The term “Wiccan” was not sued until the 1900s.  Also it is a form of paganism, not a magic user who uses good magic.

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They fit the term Wiccan.

It is also constantly said to be a bloodline, but that is false.  It is a religion.  I have seen many episodes and movies where the writers clearly know about the supernatural creatures used like the episode of Mystery Incorporated episode, “Aliens Among Us”,  which makes this mistake worse.  This is just bad.  Thankfully it is some really bad writing, but it is surrounded by some good scenes.  There is some filler where Scooby and Shaggy eat at a restaurant.  It does not go anywhere, but it is really funny.

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The plot that actually emerges is not important.  Oak Haven makes a Scooby-Doo hoax to bring in tourists by making a ghost of Sarah Ravencroft.  Ben is angry, Velma makes a plan after solving the mystery, and the mayor is the mastermind.  The only part of real significance is they meet the Hex Girls, a Goth rock band.

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They were big ensemble dark horses and reappeared in other media like two episodes of Mystery Incorporated and The Legend of the Vampire.  They are a red herring, and their leader, Thorn, wishes the others “bad dreams.”  That one line had my brother one hundred percent convinced they were the villains.  Also, Thorn is “1/16 Wiccan on my mother’s side.”  Again, Wiccan is a religion, not a bloodline.  If you are 1/16 Wiccan, then I am 1/2 Catholic and 1/2 Baptist.  Also by this movie’s logic having the tiniest amount of magic blood means you are able to do magic as well as anyone else, which I would think would mean most people could do it.

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The plot everyone actually remembers starts in the last twenty minutes when Velma finds the book that Ben said would prove Sarah was innocent.  Instead it is a spell book, which Ben takes and reveals he is a “warlock” due to being the descendant of a witch and plans to bring Sarah back to conqueror the world.  He reveals Sarah was trapped in the book by the Wiccans… Wiccans did not exist then!  If you use the current definition on that time then a witch is a Wiccan.  This word usage is really bad.  He uses the book to give himself magical powers and gives himself a mild make over.

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Should have kept the glasses

The whole opening 3/4 of the film are really not important except setting up the ending and introducing the audience to Ben.   He has been called a Stephen King expy, but I think he is more of an antithesis to Nathaniel Hawthorne.  They were both from a Puritan New England village and had an evil ancestor, Sarah Ravencroft and John Hathorne.  While Ben wants to be evil and powerful like his ancestor, wants her evilness, and always said she was good, Hawthorne heavily criticized his ancestor and was worried he would end up like him due to their shared genetics.

Back to the best parts of the film, and these are good.  I know I have been harsh on it so far, but the climax makes the film worth it.  It has a lot of stupid stuff in it, but it is awesomely stupid.  Ben spends a horde of time explaining his very detailed plan with hordes of things that could go wrong; for example, Mystery Inc. could just snatch the book away while he is monologueing.  Instead he uses the book’s magic to give himself super strength, fix his eyes, imprison a few townsmen (not important), tie up the Hex Girls (one is important), and give himself the ability to shoot lasers.  The magic also resembles the life force entering the zombies in Zombie Island.  This mages sense as the cat god and Sarah probably use the same source.

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The gang take the book back, and make a big mistake.  They do not use that time to start ripping pages up, and Ben takes it back summoning Sarah.  He then gets to the problem of summoning a greater evil.  Ben wants to rule the world and thinks Sarah will have the virtue to obey her descendant who saved her.  Instead she is psychopathic, has no gratitude, wants no accomplice, and she wants to destroy everything.  Worse, only a pure heart can lock her back up meaning Ben is powerless, and Sarah imprisons him.  Stupidly she just leaves the book sitting there.  Her powers include summoning magical attacks and turning objects into monsters.  This includes trees, roots, pumpkins (picture above), and a turkey.

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Best character in the film.  The turkey makes an awesome climax even better.  Unfortunately the solving of the climax is lacking.  Velma deduces they just need Thorn to read the book to banish Sarah since she is 1/16 good magic or something, meaning she can cast the spell.  They then keep passing the book in a scene that Mystery Incorporated ripped off (and did better), and Thorn banishes Sarah, but in the meantime Sarah grabs Ben and imprisons him with her, and the book is destroyed.  Why did the good witches who imprisoned her four hundred years ago not destroy the book then?  It removes the chances she comes back and removes evil spells.  Then Thorn ruins the moment by calling herself a “Wiccan.”  After that there is some mop-up action with the only significance being that the Turkey is still around and huge.  Give him some spin-off shorts already.

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This movie has plenty of bad.  The early Scooby movies all gave the audiences real monsters.  Zombie Island put Mystery Inc. in the middle of a supernatural battle between opposing monsters with incredibly complex villains.  Alien Invaders had a twist on real monsters by having the real creatures be the heroes and battle the fake monsters with the fakes actually beating them.  Cyber-Chase had a simple Mystery Inc. vs real monsters, but there were so many and many were nostalgic threats, but here it is the most simple case of just using real monsters with many of the same elements from Zombie Island right down to the “friend” who brought them there betraying them.  It is a pale version.  Also it has two plots splitting time with different witches.

A common problem with DTV films is they have too many plots working making it feel like multiple episodes edited together, but this one has a major upside, the episodic stories are food and fun to watch.  I like watching them catch the fake witch and the real one.  I like watching Scooby and Shaggy eat a resteraunt dry and the cook being so exhausted.

There is still a lot to like in this film.  Ben is a poor man’s Lena, but he is very entertaining and quite complex.  Does he legitimately like the gang or is he just using them.  I think he really does like being around them.  The last twenty minutes are incredibly fun to watch, and the turkey is incredible.

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Do not eat him!  Thankfully he lived.

It is the least good of the four, but I still like it.  It may be a poor man’s Zombie Island, but Zombie Island is a great film and a worse version would still be good.  The film is an entertaining 66 minutes that lacks its predecessor’s drama and uniqueness, but it still has its humor and fun.

DTV Wonders: Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders

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This is the third Scooby-Doo Direct-to-video film, and like the early ones I watched it many times thanks to blockbuster.  The first four do stand out for a few reasons.  They normally make call backs to each other and have a darker tone with real monsters.

It opens with a reprise of the Star Trek theme, and it is surprisingly dull (the only one of the four with a dull opening).  The opening feels way longer than it is.  The most interesting thing about the beginning is Shaggy is driving The Mystery Machine.

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A spaceship thing chases them off the road, and The Mystery Machine is in need of repair.  Velma, Fred, and Daphne go to a town, while Shaggy and Scooby guard The Mystery Machine.  The two cowards are considerably braver here than usual being willing to be alone and do things later.  Apparently ghosts, cat creatures, and zombies have hardened them and eventually Shaggy will be beating up biker gangs (yes, that happens in a later movie).  They find a jackalope, and  it steals their only Scooby snack.  They acknowledge they are myths, and it is probably a fake made by a real estate scammer based on this franchise.  They chase it through a government fence and meet some aliens.

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The alien designs are very generic, but their brash demeaning attitude and the musical score makes up for that.  The chase scene is played with the original theme song, and it is a very good chase scene with plenty of Scooby-do humor, and they are back with the rest of Mystery Inc. in a diner.

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At the diner there are two employees who are red herrings with no real development and hardly any character.  They and red herring mechanic are not important.  They also meet Lester, who was supposedly abducted and is constantly saying the aliens are coming back to take over the world.  I like him.  He yells too much, as most conspiracy theorists are portrayed as doing, but he is also very kind, apologetic, and helpful, and his past warrants some shouting as he tries to save the planet.  Also it becomes clear that plenty of what he says is true and the false information comes from failing to deduce a Scooby-Doo hoax.  He talks about being in an alien lab, and then in a great piece the camera moves outside and nothing can be heard as Lester talks about being experimented on with everyone else looking terrified.  Everything is left open to the imagination.  In truth the villains (disguised as aliens) are experimenting on locals to scare them. They also smartly steal the cattle.  This forces businesses and people away.  Mystery Inc. sleeps in Lester’s house where they see his paintings are of the same ship they saw making them realize his words have some truth.  Lester tells them about the local scientists looking for alien life with signals and are funded by the government.  The town blames them for recent alien sightings.  Surprisingly Scooby and Shaggy happily sleep on the roof where everything is more dangerous and vulnerable to alien abductions.  In the past they would have slept under the table just where it is safe.  Then again the monsters always got inside, so they might as well enjoy it under the stars.S5.png

Predictably Shaggy and Scooby are abducted and being interrogated, and it is one of the best scenes of the film.  The music gives a dark and dangerous tone, despite their comedic whines of tasting bad.  Fortunately they are too kooky to torture and Scooby’s tale is not bound (the restraints were made for humans, and his tail frees them.  Unfortunately they are captured again and the scene just ends.  Apparently the fake aliens (a third was introduced) then put them in the desert to help scare away other people.

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They are awakened by love interests Crystal (Human) and Amber (dog).  They are wildlife photographers, and when Shaggy mentions the jackalope and aliens they want pictures.  They are actually aliens trying to find out what these other “aliens” are doing as revealed later.

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Shaggy even sings (in his head) about his love for her in “Oh Groovy.”  It fits him so well, and its images are funny like the ghost wondering why Shaggy just left Mystery Inc.  Shaggy and Scooby even try self improvement by combing hair and tucking in shirts.  They meet one of the villains and scientists looking for aliens, Max.  They are the only group with at least three members.  Besides Max they are Steve (Mark Hamill voices him and it is uncecognizable from most of his character voices) and Laura.  They need a suspiciously high amount of oil that does even work with their equipment and have mud all over their shoes despite working in a clean room.  With them Velma, Fred, and Daphne tour the facility.  They also say the government sent an investigative team (actually sent by them to keep people out).  After leaving Fred tries to get some suspicion on Lester for having Green paint, despite him being a painter.

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Show some gratitude Fred.

Figuring the mud came from the gorge they go there.  They find a cave and the same oil cans Max bought earlier.  Apparently the villains really need to invest in trash cans or something to make the place less obvious. Put some alien technology around so visitors think aliens are mining.  Surprisingly they also find a gold mine.

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In the meantime the lovebirds look for the aliens and are chased away by two fake government agents telling them to leave.  Shaggy and Scooby also notice that Crystal’s camera is extremely high tech. Crystal insists on going back claiming she is a government agent along with Amber. They find a cave and Scooby impersonates a rattle snake to chase away the guards.  They also find the gold.  This leads to the three aliens chasing all seven of the eight main heroes (minus Lester) and the guards join in revealing they work for them  (should have given them alien costumes too to help the charade).  For the chase scene “The Aliens are Here” is played.  The chase songs are normally loud and exciting, but this one is different. It is low, soft, and dark.  This is really good.  It ends with Velma, Daphne, and Fred caught in a net and the guards chasing the couples off a cliff. The guards chase and Velma calls one alien “Steve.”

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Not much a mystery, and thankfully it is not the real ending twist.  They are doing it for the gold and they need to smuggle it out of government property.  Immediately after explaining Steve says they are about to kill them.  Then it cuts to the guards being ready to throw Shaggy, Scooby, Crystal, and Amber off a huge ravine.  These villains are really murderous.  Supposedly this is more light than the other three early DTV Scooby movies, but with murderous villains like this, a good man losing his mind, a basic plot that has likely been done successfully (without fake monsters), and all the plot twists later I think this is besides Zombie Island the darkest one.

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Finally, I got to the most memorable scene.  When Scooby and Shaggy try to scare off the guards by using air punches Amber and Crystal reveal themselves to the guards as aliens and chase them away.  I remembered almost everything from over a decade ago, the slow walk of the guards, Amber, and Crystal looking at each other with concern, and the big drop behind them.  Granted I remembered it happening with thirty, not seventeen, minutes left, and I was one hundred percent sure it took place in daylight outside the cave, so I misremembered some details.  There is some foreshadowing like how all the alien videos of Earth are from the 1960s, so Crystal looks like she is from them and her high tech camera.  What really makes it work is how it changes the tropes of the darker Scooby films.  Instead of a real monster fighting Mystery Inc. like in the last two and Cyber Chase, a real monster is saving them.  It is no where near the twist of Zombie Island, but it is quite the scene.

They change back and the guards’ claims of aliens distract the other three letting Fred sneak out of the net.  The guards decide it must be a trick and quickly grab Shaggy and Scooby this time.  Crystal and Amber change back and not knowing who they are Scooby and Shaggy hide from the aliens.  The aliens also have great strength and take out all three muscular enemies leaving only Steve and Laura, but Steve realizes something,  Captured aliens are more valuable than the gold.  They use a mining vehicle to subdue them both since Crystal it turns out is very clumsy and trip prone, and they brought no high tech easily concealable weaponry.

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Still more threatening than the aliens from Signs.  I think this is further commentary on darker Scooby-Doo.  Humans with machines good enough to fake being monsters can defeat real monsters arguably making them more dangerous and better villains.  Crystal begs Shaggy for help making them realize who they are and using another vehicle they save them and all five villains are captured.  I think the only way for Steve to get the aliens out was to kill them since I doubt he could rely on ropes since Amber bent steel.  crystal and Amber reveal they have to go back to space and were sent to investigate alien sightings.

Of the four early installments I kept hearing this is the worst, and I had low hopes watching for the first time since I was around seven, but I had a great time watching it.  As obvious and simple as they are I think the villains are real good.  It can be so predictable at times (who the villains are), but also shocking and surprising.  The biggest problem is the quality is not consistent.  The chases, alien reveal, and Lester’s scenes are great, yet plenty of the movie is too slow giving it the opposite problems of cyber Chase.  It is very memorable and Scooby fans should give it a watch.

DTV Wonders: Lilo and Stitch 2

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In my review of Stitch the Movie I praised the Lilo and Stitch franchise, but sadly that is in spite of this film.  It has the major flaws direct-to-video films are notorious for, new actors who are distractingly different and a mess of plots that do not go together.

The creators’ records are mixed.  The cast from the first film is back, except for Lilo’s actress.  Theo Leondis is the writer and his directorial debut is here.  He previously was an assistant writer on other DTV sequels. He wrote Kronk’s New Groove and directed and co-wrote …The Emoji Movie.  Writing and directing is expected to be a weakness.

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It starts with a dream Stitch is having where he is flying and shooting the island.  Then Lilo tells… him to stop, and that is the first problem.  Lilo’s actress was too busy with the show to reprise her role, and Dakota Fanning took over. She sounds very much like an eighteen year old and nothing like Lilo.  It is just jarring hearing her voice from Lilo’s body.

Lilo convinces him that he is just worried about turning bad, and he is really good. She uses his chart to show it.

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The chart is a plot device for showing how good or bad the characters view Stitch. When no one else is around Stitch’s eyes glow green and he breaks things to show the main plot. Then “Hawaiian Roller Coaster” plays. Some viewers prefer sequels reusing old songs, but I prefer new ones. It is a matter of preference.

Two new plots are then introduced. Lilo is in a hula competition involving making an original dance around a them showing “ohana.” She wants to win partly to beat Myrtle, and partly because her mom won it years ago. Another plot is Lilo is fighting and the hula teacher threatens to ban her from the competition if she does not control her violent behavior. Three plots is not too much, as two can easily mirror each other, but sadly the film keeps adding them.

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Pleakley tells David that his romantic spark with Nani is gone. He plays Cyrano to try and get it back, and besides some bad whispering it is very bad comic relief. It is usually unfunny and it just interrupts the plot.   Another plot is added when Jumba realizes what is wrong with Stitch. He tells Pleakley, as they work on building the machine that will fix them. The logical choice is to tell the family. Stitch would volunteer to be locked up to not hurt anyone, as everyone helps them make it until the glitch kills Stitch (I think just turning him evil would be better). Instead they tell no one and hide from Nani why they are taking appliances to build the machine slowing them down. This happens as Pleakley spends more time working with David, whose life is not at risk, than saving Stitch’s life. They have some failures and then build the machine.

Lilo’s plot on not fighting is the worst done. At one point Stitch’s glitching gets her in trouble, and she is banned from the contest. Then she is in it. The actual contest plot has its own big issue. they already did it in the show, where it was done better, not good but better. Lilo being very mean is just not entertaining, and it ends with her leaving the contest to help the main plot anyway.

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Stitch’s glitching is the only plot with any interest, and it has a problem in concept. He is evil by design, not free will. Jumba specially states “it is not his fault.” It should have been about old habits or something he had control over, meaning his problems are a result of his failures. I think the writer might be a hardcore determinist.

There are two good parts. One is a montage of Stitch doing good deeds to bring his goodness back up like feeding a bird worms from his mouth. The other is when he fights with Lilo. It is just good seeing him making mistakes by his own free will like he should have been all movie. Those small insults have more weight than all the glitching, because he has the ability to stop it.

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At the end Jumba builts the magic device, but Stitch then tries to leave the planet in the ship, which has the device. The family just drops the other plots (why were they around in the first place then!) to save him. Stitch does not know the machine will save him, and he starts dying and the ship crashes. Lilo puts him in it, and the film expects us to believe he is dead (he looks asleep to me. He is alive of course, and the film ends.

This film is really, really bad. It is worse than Dragonheart II, and one of the worst films I have reviewed. Only one plot has any danger, and that makes the other four seem so insignificant. Some films like The Land Before Time VII have insignificant plots, but they work, because they are all the same level of importance making the whole film seem important. This films only has one plot that seems like anything important.

Worse off, this is only 68 minutes long, yet it is so padded. With a good TV series going on, these should have been episodes instead. It hardly feels like a movie.

 

DTV Wonders Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase

 

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Scooby Doo on Zombie Island was my first written DTV Wonder, and now I return to the early Scooby-Doo movies, and I have as much nostalgia for this film as most of The Land Before Time films.  Jim Stenstrum is back as the director and Davis Doi is still producing and doing the story, but the writers are different. The main cast change is Grey DeLisle takes over as the voice of Daphne, a role which she had until 2013. This film came out in 2001. This is normally considered one of the best Scooby-Doo movies, and that is accurate to me.

The opening trailers are very good when they are about movies. The Harry Potter and he Sorcerer’s Stone trailer makes me want to watch it again.  The trailer to Pokémon 3 shows some cool Cyndaquil action, and the trailer to Grandma got run over by a Reindeer… well what else could it be? Then the toy commercials seem to have nothing to work with.

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At a strange lab some scientists talk about a laser. They are professor Kaufman (coincidently the name of one of my college’s buildings where I do most of my classes), Erik, and Bill. Besides Erik’s actor voicing Bucky the squirrel in The Emperor’s new Groove, none of their actors are important, which is fine for small roles like they have.  Apparently the laser is broken, but then it just turns on after Bill presses some buttons and keeps pressing them (he is probably the villain), and then the Laser shoots the Phantom Virus into the world. While I have named him the movie does not until later giving the viewers a mysterious unknown villain.  He is also able to absorb computer data and make electronics come to life as his minions so it ends with a close up of his pointy chin, as the professor and his students are trapped.  This results in disappointment when the Mystery Machine is shown with the characters expositioning about their friend Erik making a computer game based off them instead of more of the college.

They arrive at “State University.”  I presume it is named for its founder, John State. They meet the Red Herring, Officer Wembley (there is zero chance he had access to the computers necessary), and he immediately worries they are pranksters.  The next few scenes give exposition with some comic relief mixed in to keep the kiddies entertained like Scooby and Shaggy nearly eating radioactive tomatoes.  Both Kaufman and Erik ask for help, and it is revealed they escaped the virus as the electromagnet is his kryptonite, as it hurts his pixels.  Also it is mentioned he can wreck all of Earth’s technology (sadly it will not be explored).  The laser can move objects into the computer world and apparently vice versa, as a Virus was beamed in.  They use this for making computer game instead of ending The Great Pacific Garbage island

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We then have a bad mythology gag. When Fred says to split up Scooby and Shaggy leave before he says who will go with whom.  Shaggy’s response is “Like we ever do it any other way.” In the first two seasons more often than not it was Scooby, Shaggy, and Velma in a group. Well after that Scooby and Shaggy proceed to eat the cafeteria dry, while Velma, Fred, and Daphne have a showdown with the phantom virus, and interestingly thanks to the magnet this time the gang is chasing the monster instead of the reverse.  They are then caught by Officer Wembly who points out that they are in a restricted area and Kaufman never gave them hall passes.  Maybe Kaufman is the villain.  Well in what is probably he best part of the movie’s humor the phantom virus chases Scooby and Shaggy, which includes them using a robot against him (virus forgot he can control), and electrocuting him.

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Then they electrocute him again.

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Despite being able to control technology, hide in dust, and shoot lasers from his fingers, he seems surprisingly playful and inept, since this is not his world.  They run by the rest resulting in the whole gang getting stuck trying to fin him. Then the laser is powered by a lab coat hand (further ruling Wembley out) beams them into the computer game.  It is then revealed by Erik that the only way for them to get out is for them to get past all ten levels. The problem is they could still beam in a guide to the game, a walkthrough, or supplies.

Level one is the moon level, where it is quickly established that they can still feel pain there, and presumably die.  The story gets episodic here, as it is about them being chased by moon goons and the phantom virus, as in each level this is what they have to do in order to find a box of Scooby snacks.  The story gets episodic because of it, and this is quite dull except for showing the phantom virus to now be a much larger threat, as he has allies and all of the magnets are stuck in the real world.  Why put them down?

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The second level is much improved.  They are moved to the Roman Coliseum.  To make things worse a lion has the Scooby snacks, but he for some reason puts it on the ground.  After a good chase between the gladiators and Scooby and Shaggy; Fred successfully bull fights the lion into the pen. In a chase scene that then makes no sense if you consider the timing, Shaggy and Scooby distract the gladiators by disguising themselves as…

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Assuming Caligula was emperor at the time him being a dog is actually believable.  They then get to the hardest level, three out of ten.  Apparently to pass this prehistoric level the player must wander a huge forests where everything is trying to kill you, find the scooby snacks on an erupting volcano, have no knowledge beforehand that they are there, have the only clue being a drawing in a random cave, which the player may not go into, deal with it turning dark, and do it before the volcano erupts.  This sounds insanely difficult, and I am wondering why it is level three instead of at least eight.  It is actually the best level to watch and it begins with the phantom virus on a T-Rex.

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They escape it the same way as they did in The Land Before Time VI (which came out three years before this film, so I always assumed they had just watched it for inspiration), by hiding in the thick trees where it could not go.  They eventually reach the volcano by wooly mammoth riding (apparently Erik programmed them to smell bad).  Scooby heroically goes to save a baby pterodactyl, which it turns out was on top of the Scooby snacks.

Then the film montages the next six levels, which all look considerably easier than level three until level ten.  They are in a city, and they eventually find their older counterparts.

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I have no memory of Scooby wearing a red collar anywhere else, and Velma looks identical, but this is cool to see, as they meet Erik’s programmed characters, especially how different their eyes are.  In a nice reference they meet them in a malt shop, as most episodes of the first two seasons begin with the gang reading a newspaper in a malt shop.  Fortunately they also know where the scooby snacks are.  Apparently they are supposed to just wander a huge city until they get to the theme park where they are.  Why not just make the theme park the whole level, as it is clearly big enough?  Was this a plan to sell guide books, as this just sounds like boring grinding? They find the phantom virus in a batting cage, and then The Creeper and many old Scooby-Doo villains that even I am unfamiliar with.

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At least the tar monster later showed up in Scooby-Doo 2 Monsters Unleashed.  To make things worse they are all real monsters in cyberspace instead of normal people in masks.  They then split up and have some surprisingly well written and good scenes with their older counterparts as they outwit the monsters to escape… twice. They then meet up at the arcade where the virus and Scooby snacks are, and it turns out Shaggy still has the magnet (that damages cyber creatures), and it affects the cyber mystery gang. How did he not feel that huge thing, and it should also affect the area and inanimate objects. In a finely done scene Fred says they should just use the magnet on the virus, and get the cyber gang to stay away outside the arcade.  Instead Fred gets cocky and slips on a ball, and the magnet falls under a game. To make things worse the virus makes the game come to life, and its wires grab Fred. Now the virus is shooting lasers everywhere and controlling the objects to fly everywhere. It is amazing how much more intimidating he has gotten throughout the movie. The cyber gang can tell something is wrong, but then the monsters from earlier chase them away except cyber Scooby who goes inside of the arcade.

Fred gives him a plan which is for Cyber Scooby to mock the virus distracting him, while real Scooby gets the Scooby snacks.  Shaggy’s comment “…I’ve never seen Scooby acting so brave.” still bugs me. What about in level three? Well Scooby grabs them, and that defeats all the villains, and lets them go home.

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I cannot say the different Mystery Incs leaving is sad, but it is a nice end to the main part of the film. They arrive back to solve the mystery of… who created the virus. Frankly I would think it could be a Russian hacker, and it is hard to still care about it compared to the Cyber space story.  Fred points out all the baseball references and Erik shows signs of guilt by fleeing instead of claiming to be framed.  He is arrested and the movie ends at a malt shop as a nice call back to the original series and level 10. After that lots and lots of ads for the video game.

As an adult this film is overly episodic and lacks focus.  It makes little sense as well.  As a kid this movie is stupendous.  Everything about it is amazing, and all my siblings loved it too.  Since children are the target audience I think that weighs more, so this is a great film, but without nostalgia I doubt any adult fans will like it.

 

 

DTV Wonders Aladdin 2 The Return of Jafar

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This is by seven months the first American Direct-to-video animated film, and this started Disney using Disney Toons, the makers of their cartoon shows to make sequels to their popular films.  This is an important film in animated history, but it is also mostly forgotten.

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This was made to be the pilot direct-to-television pilot for the animated series, and I for years thought the film was a movie adaptation of the show and the makers turned my favorite character, Iago, into a villain.  In some odd production issues Robin Williams was lied to about merchandising so he refused to come back, and he was replaced by Dan Castellaneta.

To what I can tell liking this movie is primarily based around thoughts on Iago.  Iago was my favorite character of the series due to him having flaws, So I am basically this film’s target audience, but I know many fans hate his voice, so they should not even bother with this film then.

It starts with a few thieves, as they play the demo version of “Arabian Knights.”  They then look at all of their loot and their useless leader, Abis Mal.

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He proceeds to claim 99.99% of the treasure for himself, break another 0.001%, and give his many henchmen a few pennies. How is he their leader?  The Disney DTV movies normally try for a more serious story than the Universal ones, but with unbelievable things like this it does not work.  Aladdin then robs all of their robbed goods by literally beating armed men by running on their heards where only Abis Mal even slows him down, and this is a major problem that also happened in The Lion King II, the villains are early on showed as so easy to effortlessly beat it is unbelievable when they are threats later on. At least these guys do not have important roles here.  Aladdin and Abu then proceed to give the stolen items to their rightful owners… They just throw it at people on the ground.

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I have mixed feelings about this.  For one they are giving it to the poor, but since they are all in the same area this could really damage the gold standard there, and some big heavy gold pieces are bound to hit some elders and children on the head, and he keeps the most expensive thing as a gift for Jasmine.

In the meantime Iago digs himself and Jafar out of the ground, and I think this addresses a problem from the first movie.  Nobody else has ever told me this issue, but just throwing Genie Jafar’s new lamp in the desert sounded like a horrible idea to me, since someone will find it sooner or later.  Well Iago refuses to release Jafar not trusting him as a Genie and blaming him for their problems by going too ambitious. Iago sings “I’m Looking out for Me,” while throwing Jafar’s lamp down the well. Personaly I like Gilbert Gottfried’s voice so I am okay with the song. It ends with a merchant beating him making it ultimately pointless.

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Aladdin and Abu go to lord their new power over “the common folk,” yet they foolishly bring no weapons. Iago decides he is his new key to power by pretending that he was under Jafar’s mind control, and of course Aladdin tries to kill him until they run into Abis Mal’s gang.

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Fairly humorously Abis Mal’s gang has to remind him he is Aladdin, and all of the suddenly they are threats now, and Iago while saving himself from Abis Mal saves Aladdin as a side effect.  Aladdin then in gratitude offers him a fair hearing.  To me that is a paid debt if he then lets Iago leave Agrabah, but Aladdin is too much of a pushover who tries to get Iago back into the palace permanently.  We then get to some boring Aesop amnesia where Aladin forgets not to lie, and Genie comes back to sing “Nothing in the World,” a useless song we can skip.

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Word of advice, if you know the basic plot the first twenty minutes, and one second can be skipped. Abis Mal’s men decide to kill him, but not after he finds and releases Genie Jafar who scares away the men. Abis Mal and Iago have been carrying the film, so obviously Abis Mal decided to bring in some help for the movie’s sake, what a hero. When Jafar tries to flee he is forced to stay, as that is how the genie code works, which includes he cannot kill. Jafar quickly nearl kills Abis Mal wasting two wishes, as part of his new simple plan, get Abis Mal to let him torture Aladdin, then give him twenty wishes worth of objects if the third wish is for his freedom. Jafar is very calculating in this film, and I love watching it. “It is not enough that we simply destroy Aladdin… they’re are things so much worse than death.”  This part is great. Jafar turns his weakness of not being able to kill into a strength by deciding to use torture instead, and he goes all out on it.

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At the dinner meeting Sultan offers to make Aladdin Jafar’s official replacement, but they quickly start talking about Iago and their hatred of him instead, and thanks to Abu’s attempts to kill Iago, he ends up right there, where Aladdin has to stop him from being executed on the spot.  He is apparently awful with words, as he just says there might be some good in Iago without even saying that the parrot saved his life, and now Jasmine and Sultan are mad at him.  However Iago realizes Aladdin, unlike Jafar, did something selfless for him. To help Aladdin and Jasmine make up he uses reverse psychology on Jasmine to forget about his charm, and he also gets Genie to give them some private time. The problem is it only uses superficial love tropes like looks, but it at least explains Iago being useful.

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Jafar then decides treacherous Iago joins whoever is in power, so he decides Iago will just flip back to him out of fear, which is overall what happens. It also becomes apparent that between working with incompetent Abis Mal and Iago’s treachery Jafar has lost any faith in loyal, good help. Jafar’s plan is great, kidnap everyone Aladdin cares about and get him sentenced to be executed. First Iago suggests to Aladdin to go on a one on one trip with Sultan to a perfect place Iago knows of, which Iago gets Aladdin to do.

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With Aladdin, Sultan, and carpet gone Jafar beats Genie with the villain song “You’re only Second Rate,” as apparently Genie has no power compared to Jafar, and it ends with Genie being stuck in a crystal ball, and Abu bing chained.  One common problem of the TV show was finding a way to limit Genie’s power, but here they just had someone more powerful, and his villain song is really good. While Aladdin is explaining to Sultan about Iago much better this time Abis Mal shows up, and the animation gets a serious boost, as a diferent company starts doing it.  Iago is quickly blamed by Aladin and Sultan is kidnapped.  Aladdin and Carpet go to save him, but carpet is captured as well, and Aladin is heading towards a waterfall.

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He is saved by Jafar (in disguise).

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Some viewers are bothered by Jafar saving the hero, but remember, his plan is to torture him, and this is too fast. Aladdin then gets home only for Princess Jasmine to order his execution for assassinating the Sultan.  It is then revealed it was actually Jafar in disguise, and Jasmine is also captured. The way Jafar then thanks Iago makes it even more obvious he will switch back later, but I soon realized he is torturing Sultan and Jasmine by reminding them that they trusted Iago, whom betrayed them previously. A further detail I like is when Aladdin explains himself to the guards instead of questioning the existence of magic like lesser fantasies do they question him surviving going down the waterfall and why the evil magic user would save him.

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After Jafar leaves Iago works on freeing Genie, and Jafar makes a great torture mistake. Aladdin thought his own girlfriend was having him executed, but Jafar reveals himself to Aladdin ruining a few details, but Iago frees Genie, who then frees all the good guys. Iago’s new plan is to flee from Jafar and change identities, but everyone else wants to save Agrabah. Genie reveals that destroying the lamp will kill Jafar unless he is freed. Iago flees away, as everyone else goes to kill Jafar.  At the climax Genie Jafar offers hordes of rewards to Abis Mal if his third wish is Jafar’s freedom, and it is about to work except Abis Mal keeps asking for more and wonders if he has a guarantee everything will stay. I like this because the villain fails because of his own flaws, greed. Jafar then notices Aladdin and the battle goes outside with the lamp stuck between them.  Jasmine for the only time in the movie does something useful by trying to grab the lamp, but Jafar creates a lava pit.  Then Aladdin mocks Jafar for being unable to remove a street rat, so Jafar tries to squeeze the life out of him.

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It turns out it was Genie in disguise, and real Aladdin and carpet are going for the lamp. I presume Genie cannot kill the lamp due to the rules.  Well Carpet dies for the second time in two movies. With Aladdin stuck in the lava pit Iago comes to do a deus ex bird and grab the lamp, but before he can hand it to Aladdin he is struck by Jafar’s lightning. Jafar gives an evil laugh not realizing Iago has enough life left in him to kick the lamp into the lava.  Iago is seemingly dead but he then says the move’s arc words for the third time. “you’d be amazed what you could live through.”  With Jafar defeated events are set up for the TV series.

This film starts with a slow pace and then it gets quick, its heroes are bland, and it has animation problems.  On the positive side it has a great villains, stars someone struggling with his own morality, stars Iago, and I enjoy the action in the second half.  The major divide is Iago.  some fans hate him and others, like me, view him as the best part of the franchise. It is not the movie for everyone, but I consider it to be worth a watch.

 

 

 

DTV Wonders: The Lion King 1 1/2

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I know I panned the second film hard despite its fans, yet this film got me really excited. Two of the five best characters were confirmed to have starring roles, and I really enjoyed the trailer’s fourth wall breaking humor.  I then saw it really quick after it hit stores, and I was not disappointed.

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After revealing that Timon and Pumbaa are watching by rewinding past the beginning of the main movie they show where the meerkats live in “the pit of shame.”  “Diggah Tunnah Dance” is the first song about the meerkat way of life, hiding.  In a deleted scene they also touched on them considering bravery to be stupidity despite their example, Fearless Ed, having won many battles against hyenas before they finally got him.  After everything is going well the entire tunnel comes down thanks to a skylight Timon was trying to make.  To add insult to injury the skylight then falls apart.

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Apparently this happens all the time, as Timon tries to “Shed a little light on our pathetic existence.”   His mom then tries to tell him that their job is to hide so they can dig so they can hide some more, and he must be able to fit in somewhere.  Timon wants a better home that is not from the dirt.  Then his mom gives him some wisdom.  “Look out to the horizon, past the trees, over the grasslands. Everything the light touches. Belongs to someone else.”  For those two lines this is already worth watching, and they further deconstruct the main film like when Uncle Max says they fear all, are feared by none, and they are simply food for other animals.  Timon counters that they eat grass the carnivores turn into, but Uncle Max then points out they are grass intolerant.  I just checked and that is true.  His mom then gets him put in sentry duty with the entire clan backing her up, as it keeps Timon out of the tunnels.  The problem is he breaks into song.  The song is actually quite forgettable except for three small details.

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The best three characters are back.

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To show their added threat level with these smaller protagonists they are drawn much bigger (by putting the camera lower) and darker.  They knock Timon back to the hole, and walk in dramatically.  From what I heard if they do that you are as good as dead. They play around with he meerkats (clearly they just ate and are jut having some fun), and they even eat of some of Uncle Max’s skin or fur.  Timon tells everyone to trust him that they will be laughing at his failure in the future, and Uncle Max replies with “I did trust you.” Timon accepts responsibility and leaves for a better home after he says goodbye to his mother.

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Rafiki then shows up after he hears Timon wondering what he is doing and crying for mommy.  Timon asks if Rafiki heard his past song and then gives a quick recap. Rafiki gives him the metaphor to look beyond what he sees instead of drawing a map, and Rafiki informs Timon that he seeks hakuna matata. Timon then literally looks beyond what he sees, and as he zooms in on Pride Rock the music greatly intensifies.  “I’s kind of hard to think with all this music.” He then continues to the giant pointy rock. Rafiki here is acting way more similar to is wise and goofy self in the first film.  He then runs into Pumbaa and recruits him as a bodyguard and acquaintance. Timon then to his disappointment sees hordes of animals are there, as apparently the monkey blabbed the message to everyone.  They then continue in a scene that matches nearly perfectly time wise with the original film.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDrQlssQnGc

After this they make a series of places from the first film their home only for something from the original movie to get in the way like hyenas, noisy singing neighbors, or a stampede.  These parts notably include them calling each other “acquaintances” and Timon going from demanding everything in a home to just the bare necessities.  I really enjoy these alternate points of view on the first film’s scenes despite the plot hole that apparently Simba grew from a baby to a little kid in one day.  Eventually they are stuck on a river together.

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After that they wash ashore and Timon accepts his inevitable death telling Pumbaa to go back home, and for the first time he calls him ‘buddy” instead of “acquaintance.” It also happens when Timon is thinking of Pumba instead of just himself. Pumbaa refuses, as Timon is the closest he has to family, which is something Timon actually has, but Pumbaa is his only “friend,” and they decide they will go through a rough life together.

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They find their home from the main movie, and proceed to sing “Hakuna Matata.” Unlike the Jungle Book 2, which kept singing their signature song over and over, this is the only time it is sung, and it is great, especially when Pumbaa tries to eat the sing-along grub.  After this they decide to play with the buzzards, as it “will not change their lives.”  Hence they meet Simba, but they now must face the real great danger, parenthood.  After some great scenes of young Simba playing with his meerkat dad, some red herrings about his duty, and some simple gags at Timon’s expense they foreshadow the theme. It is that to have a happy life one needs friends, so naturally they are even happier with three instead of two members.  Also Simba and Timon only once really act like father and son instead of as good friends, partly as the writers are showing them as Simba’s providers and friends when he is mostly grown, as Mufassa is his father still. Things are good for them until Nala arrives. To break them up they intend a few gags, which all backfire leading to more romance and pain on Timon.

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Simba leaves the next morning, and it takes Timon and Pumbaa many attempts to figure out what is going on.  Timon feels betrayed by Simba and refuses to go help, and probably as he is not a good choice for a fight.  When Rafiki comes to talk with him Timon just mimics him in a conversation with himself that lets him see the error of his ways without someone else really talking to him.  I really enjoy seeing that change.

At Pride Rock they reveal that they escaped the hyenas post diversion with Pumbaa’s gas (I had been wondering how they did that for years), and then Uncle Max and Timon’s mom show up.  They make the plan to separate the hyenas from Scar with a huge tunnel, but they need to stall them so Uncle Max and Ma can finish it. Timon proposes marriage to the female matriarch. Interesting fact female hyenas can not turn into males as is commonly believed, but they do have penises, and three times the testosterone.I am now wondering what their children would look like, as Timon mentioned, but thankfully Shenzi and Banzai end this conversation. Also this happens during Simba’s duel with Scar making another plot hole, as the Hyenas should be watching that. Thanks to some more heroics from Timon the hyenas get stuck in the tunnel, and Simba thanks them at his coronation. Well of course, they raised you.

The meerkat clan then moves into Timon and Pumbaa’s dream home, and it ends with…

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Timon’s mom wanting them to rewind it, and many other characters show up, even from “Song of the South.”  I cannot blame them.

Despite its lousy climax I love this movie. With the possible exception of Pooh’s Grand Adventure this is the best of the Disney sequels. This is more consistently good, but Grand Adventure is notably superior at times.  This film is simply a great comedy.

 

DTV Wonders: Balto 3 Wings of Change

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This has the same cast and director as the second film, and it is written by Cliff Ruby and Elana Lesser, the writers of the first film.  This is the first sequel written by the original’s writer(s).  I have seen little discussed about this film partly because it just does not leave an impact.

It starts with a simple song and the mail dogs doing their job happily, and also foreshadowing their future turn back to the lights side.

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The plot starts with Balto getting Jenna to wait for a plane, that he loves watching and trying to outrun.  Maurice LaMarche’s voice is now practically identical to Kevin Bacon’s performance partly as the dialogue matches the original’s better. Balto really wants to fly in it due to the freedom, though I always thought the fun of it alone should do the trick.

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These two characters are Ralph and Dipsy.  They were supposed to be a couple, but the director had all sorts of unused ideas and that was most of their scenes. They are unimportant, but at least Ralph is kind of funny. They are worried about the mail being late, and it finally arrives being delivered by Kodi, Balto and Jenna’s son, and many other dogs that I can never remember the names of.   For the most part they are not important. They are always late, and only Kodi cares. The pilot, Duke, leaves to talk and Balto wants to fly off in it.  It is also mentioned a few times that the snow is soft for Spring.

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In the meantime another goose, Stella, arrives, and she and Boris are immediately attracted to each other especially after she sees Boris be a father to two polar bears. I heavily criticized Charles Fleischer’s performance last film but between the better script this feels close to the Boris of the first film.  The problem is she wants for them to fly together, and Boris then reveals to Balto that he is horrified of heights.  The plot so far is overly generic, but the dialogue and execution of the comedy is saving it.

After Boris practices by flying literally a few inches off the ground the mail dogs overhear the meeting from underneath the same floor from the first film.  Apparently the hospital was remade into a city hall within three years (this film takes place in 1928, while the first film takes place in 1925).  The city decides that the mail dogs are too slow, so they want to replace them with the plane, but they ultimately decide to race.  The mail dogs talk about who will lead them and lead dogs says “you can count on me.”  The delivery and dialogue is funny, but due to it being hard to find out their names or character the mail dogs come off really flat, yet they probably have the most interesting storyline.  Especially today in America people are focusing on their own jobs rather than being good, and that is their problem.  Obviously they pick Balto for their leader, which I presume is allowed because the newspaper backed it up to make this more newsworthy.

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Whenever these films are mentioned someone always claims the historical Balto is not a hero, and that it hurts the film.  Well, this is a movie and movie Balto is definitely a hero.  Also real Balto lead a key part of the serum run, and successfully made up for his mushers mistakes by getting them out of a blizzard he got them stuck in, and like movie Balto he overcame being the dog everyone thought would fail.

Back to this movie the mail dogs are already celebrating victory as soon as Balto agrees to lead and do not listen to his advice or pessimism about victory.  He is worried about how Kodi will see him when he loses, and Jenna then sings the best song of the film “You don’t have to be a Hero.”  Director Phil Weinstein said it was supposed to show Kodi becoming a mail dog, but the clips of Balto being a dad to him are better.  It is about Balto being a dad to him over being the town hero.  It also includes shots of Aleu being faster than her siblings to please the second film’s fans.  The problem is that the three songs are crammed into the first thirty-two minutes of film (I skipped one by Stella).  Boris also tells Balto he is faking wing injuries and if things go wrong for Balto to pretend to need his help.

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The night before the race Balto and Duke have a friendly look at the plane.  Stella falls for a story by Boris about his wing being injured in a fight with a bald eagle.  Right before the race Boris brags about its success while being unaware Stella is right there, and she chases him into the plane.  The race starts by revealing the plane is not that reliable, but when it does finally take off Duke quickly surpasses the dogs.

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Balto has also improved at keeping his teammates in control, and the map from the first one shows their progress tot heir destination.  So far this just feels too much like a less good version of the first one, but like a Balto movie at least. Duke has to take time finding a landing spot nearly letting the dogs catch up, but besides Balto trailing leaves them discouraged.  On the ground Duke has to take a lot of maintenance work giving the dogs a fine lead, but Boris just misses joining Balto back to Nome, and I think the mail dogs did not want the extra work, but the dogs take a big lead until Duke surpasses them all, and he gives them a salute.  Duke then cannot see in icy air, and between losing track of where he is, the plane’s wings filing with ice, and the engine failing the dogs surpass him.  He then crashes.

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The dogs are very happy, except for Balto who says they will lose to the plane eventually. This makes Kodi mad and Jenna disappointed.  Then Muk and Luk talk about a monster they saw in the snow, which Balto realizes is the plane, and talk with Stella makes him realize Stella is there, which horrifies Stella that she cannot keep insulting Boris, and that she could be directly responsible for his death. Balto tries to recruit the mail dogs or at least Kodi to go there, but they instead say they are mostly loyal to their jobs, an that these events show that dogs are more dependable than machines.  I guess balto’s other children live out of town now. Jenna stays behind assuming Kodi went (bad thinking) leaving the party as Stella (who has no idea where anything there is due to being on vacation, two polar bear cubs with little to no skills, and the great hero Balto who will clearly have to do all the work.

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This film then becomes a looney tune with some music to match. The characters instead of being saved by skill or strength get saved by the ice coincidently clogging itself into a convenient bridge.

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Oddly Stella supplies all of the humor in it.  They find Boris after dealing with some bull moose, and again they are saved by coincidences way to close to the other time that saved them.  After this Balto gets Muk and Luk to take Bori back, while he will bring Duke and his broken leg back to Nome.  This series has now revered the usual The Land Before Time format.  Normally they had different plots that all connected at the end.  Here they are disconnecting at the end.

Director Phil Weinstein has written that he wanted Steele to help Balto around this part instead of the mail dogs, and I do not think that would have worked.  While it could connect to Duke being a good person, the rival and obvious villain being overall good and wanting to help, that would be hard to pull off, and between the pacing issues and scenes that really go nowhere I think that is too ambitious for his skills as a director.  Instead a scene is added where Kodi and the mail dogs come to help allowing Balto and Duke to make it back.  Basic plot points are addressed like Boris confessing his fears to Stella and Duke taking Balto for a plane ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

DTV Wonders Balto II Wolf Quest

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To start it off everything looks different.  Balto is chasing or running from a raven through perilous ice and some weird wolves are also there.

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Already this is just nonsense.  Unlike the tenth The Land Before Time film where the opening dream had plenty of reason in the insanity and clear excitement, this is just obvious foreshadowing of something at the end.  Boris wakes Balto up leading to a funny casting choice.  In the first film Boris was voiced by Bob Hoskins, Eddy Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  Now he is voiced by Roger Rabbit’s actor from the same film, and he does a terrible job here.  He never comes off as wise or funny, and his humor is bad.  Balto is voiced by The Brain from Pinky and the Brain, and he is doing a very good impression of Kevin Bacon, and he still has fine range like telling Boris “I hate it when you get dramatic.”

They get to a totem pole as Boris goes on and on and on about Balto’s dream being important, and a small dog takes way to long to say Jenna and Balto had puppies.  How did they not notice she was pregnant, but this is still a logical next step for the franchise, and I was happy to see this despite the trailer showing it off.  Also the historical Balto was neutered.

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Jenna now looks notably different, but I am okay with that, and she is voiced by Ariel and Thumbelina.  After a few more dreams that I can still find no real foreshadowing in Boris finally does something funny and Jenna reveal the puppies will be adopted tomorrow.  The main plot finally starts, as Boris says Aleu, a puppy, looks more wolf than Balto does.  Some have criticized this by saying she has blue eyes, which are impossible in wolves, but I doubt many people know this besides her dad.

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They are then sold in the medicine box from the first film while the song “Taking you Home” is played.  I have cried when watching it before, but other times I am indifferent to it.  The non-wolf looking dogs are adopted leaving only Aleu, so I guess the people did not love Balto as much as I thought.  I would want his kid who resembles him. Muk and Luk show up, and I know I watched this a few times just to try and remember who is who.  Also they are somehow still cubs, while Aleu is full grown.

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Pinky, this magnet will accelerate her aging process.
After some badly synchronized sound to lip movement a raven (later confirmed to be a spirit guide) distracts her leading to a hunter nearly killing her.  She runs to the hunter thinking he wants to play with a dog, which is obviously scaring him.  Balto chases him away, and apparently Aleu is unaware she looks like a wolf.  I guess The Brain did something to her brain.  For having wolf heritage he gave to her Aleu denounces her father and runs off.  I was always bored of this scene when I was younger, as it is just predictable.
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A few future spirit guides are introduced in the background. Then Balto’s next dream actually has foreshadowing and good music, but now a voice calls Balto her son and mentions many future spirit guides.  Cool it with the supernatural elements.  Supernatural has less supernatural than this and the original film had almost none.  Balto wakes up wasting time assuming Aleu is back apparently forgetting the last scene. He then goes looking for his daughter.
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    Balto’s help from spirit guides is at first very unimaginative, just following them, but things get better eventually with the fox. It is a scene that is incredibly obvious she will randomly knock him in the water, where she tries to get Balto to just let the current move him, and that is part of what parenting is about, adapting with change instead of trying to fight it, but there are still three issues. This spirit’s plan is overly complex, why not just let him keep following the raven, as it can walk or fly, and I do not watch Balto to see a fantasy.
     Also the only way to make sense of the next wolverine clan scene is that other spirits are against him, but that is never brought up again.  Even worse there are two more scenes with Boris, Muk, Luk, and Jenna that go nowhere and focus on characters who do not speak for the entire second half of the film, they just are shown looking worried.  This film could easily have gotten a small enough run time to be an hour long tv special (thirty minutes off).
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    With thirty minutes left the villains are introduced and things finally get interesting. Some newer versions of the first film’s minions show up.  They get almost no screen time or personality, but Mark Hamill voices Niju, the main villain.  He is aggressive and evil, yet he does want what is best for the clan. His flaw is the relatable one of being scared of change, and he is the film’s best character.
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 He decides Balto and Aleu are a threat, and he sends the minions to deal with them, after some useless help from the raven Balto is being triple teamed while having to save his daughter who literally just trips off the peninsula they are on.  The rest of the clan lead by Nava (same actor as the evil police chief in An American Tail 3) saves them with his supernatural powers to control killer whales.  With the same powers he knows the Caribou have migrated away and will not return. He also says they will be lead by “The one who is wolf but does not know.” This obviously means Aleu, but everyone assumes it means Balto.  Niju counters leaving based on them being lead by a non-wolf
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 Many of the clan go with Niju, and then a really simple song about balance is sung by everyone. Balto literally goes back and forth on helping or going home, but then he and Aleu have a dream about the ice forming a bridge to where they need to go, and that happening is enough of a sign in the morning.  I would have been on board as soon as my leader could turn into a tree.  They all go across except for Niju who insists they will all die away from their longtime home.  Soon Nava’s piece of ice floats away, and Aleu swims after him, Niju also swims there to kill them both.
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After an Aleu swimming scene that also goes nowhere Balto arrives to save the day.  They then realize the other wolves are drifting away, and them not having a clear leader is portrayed as a travesty that only one of those four can fix.  I hate that idea.  It is not as bad as in The Lion King, but I hate the concept of a born leader and everyone else cannot do it.  Leadership is not inherent, it has to be mastered through experience like everything else. From this group you have an old wolf about to die of old age, two half-breeds used to people that have never lead wolves, and a fighter with bad decision making skills.  No way are these the only or best options.  Balto tells Niju to swim there, but he panics, changes away from his Joker voice and looks at his own home, where he ends up due to the ice breaking.  Aleu insists on going to lead them alone, and that is what happens.   Besides some brief psychic moments she was useless, and as a domesticated dog will doubtfully survive long.  Balto and Nava go back to the mainland, and in a scene I do like Nava says he will find Niju and continue the clan with him.  I love the moral here that evil can be redeemed. The film ends with the reveal that the great spirit is Balto’s wolf mom.
     I know this movie has fans, but I am not one. I heard this film was almost in theaters, and it has many problems of a theatrical film like inconsistencies due to too many people working on it.  The supernatural elements make this feel nothing like the first film.  Many scenes I skipped because they go nowhere. Unlike the sequels to An American Tail and The Land Before Time many characters from the original were put in that contribute nothing or incredibly little to the plot.  This is worse than The Land Before Time 13. Is it as bad as The Lion King II ?   No, it has a better moral and consistent theme, that we must learn to accept change, as it is inevitable.  It was shown with Balto as a parent and Niju as a citizen of a clan.  It also has less bad connections with the original, and it least has an okay last thirty minutes.  Also the acting is considerably better than in the Lion King 2 and the average character is much better mostly thanks to Balto and Niju.
     While I hate this film, I know it has fans.  For many fans a female protagonist with no love interest is appealing, and I know some viewers love the supernatural elements.  For viewers that enjoy those this is a film to watch.
 

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The big debate from this film came from the film saying the white wolf is Balto’s mother.  Well as a kid I had always toned out by the ending and never noticed that part.  Now I can see that they look nothing alike and should just be considered different characters.