Category Archives: Film

Dragon Ball Z: Lord Slug

lord_slug2Japanese Title:  Son Goku the Super Saiyan

Original Release Date:  March 9, 1991

English Release Date:  August 7, 2001

Directed by:  Mitsuo Hashimoto

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running Time:  52 minutes

Going into this, I didn’t have the highest opinion of Dragon Ball Z movies. They’re good fun and all, but they’re so simple and derivative that they hardly seem worth praise. In spite of that though, I’ve very much enjoyed revisiting the first three films. They vary in quality to some degree, but all three have made for some good entertainment. When it comes to the fourth Dragon Ball Z feature, Lord Slug, I’m actually just now sitting down and watching it for the first time. Back in the Toonami days, the first three films were shown on Cartoon Network often so I saw quite a bit of them. It was a long while before Funimation resumed dubbing the films, so most fans outside of Japan had to resort to the dreaded fansub. Basically, fans would take episodes of anime and subtitle it themselves then hawk them on the internet for a not insubstantial sum. A kid in my neighborhood went through the effort of purchasing a VHS tape of Dragon Ball Z movies from one such source and was happy to share the wealth when it actually arrived. Most charged for the tape plus the movies, so the incentive was to cram as many movies onto each tape as possible. Lord Slug had a reputation online as being one of the worst Dragon Ball Z movies, so this kid didn’t include it and instead opted for the consensus better flicks. I borrowed that tape and watched the movies on it, and by the time Funimation actually put out the movies officially I had moved onto other things.

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A new enemy for Goku – a runaway planet!

For this feature of mine, Lord Slug was actually a movie I was really looking forward to despite its reputation considering it would be entirely new to me. Even though it has a reputation, I didn’t really hold that against it. These movies may not be high art, but they’re so simple that it seems hard to totally botch it. Plus the villain seemed interesting to me considering his ties to Piccolo, one of my favorite characters. It was my hope going into it that because of that connection a certain Namekian might actually get to do something other than show up and get obliterated.

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The others are forced to watch as Goku and Krillin go to work.

The movies opens in familiar fashion, perhaps too familiar at this point, with Piccolo (Christopher Sabat) quietly meditating by a waterfall. Gohan (Stephanie Nadolny) shows up with his dragon pal Icarus (Sabat), making his second appearance, wearing his old school traditional attire from the very first movie and episodes of the show. Gohan is apparently excited to unveil some sort of song and dance routine he’s been working on with Icarus. It’s kind of cute to see Gohan acting like a child, even if it feels like an atypical scene for Dragon Ball Z. When Gohan starts whistling Piccolo starts to freak out. Apparently the high-pitched noise of Gohan’s whistling bothers Piccolo’s super sensitive ears. Oddly enough, Piccolo seems surprised by it so apparently he’s never heard a human whistle before (which is actually believable since he’s basically been a hermit his whole life).

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Lord Slug begins he film as a pretty old, and decrepit looking individual, but he won’t stay that way.

After that episode is concluded, Piccolo notices something heading towards Earth. We get a cut-up of a bunch of folks picking up on the same thing. Instead of the usual, a super-powered being only the Z Fighters can sense, it’s actually a giant, frozen, planet that’s on a collision course with Earth. As the whole world prepares for Dooms Day, Goku (Sean Schemmel) and Krillin (Sonny Strait) fly up to meet it. They unleash twin Kamehameha attacks that entwine and then combine into one super Kamehameha wave, but it seems to have little effect on the onrushing planet. Goku and Krillin are thrust aside and it looks like the planet won’t be spared a direct impact. As the others at ground level take cover, the Earth’s atmosphere goes to work. The giant, ice ball is melted away revealing a colossal spaceship underneath that lands on the surface. Even though the majority of the planet melted away, it still caused a ton of damage.

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Chi-Chi gets in on the action, for a moment.

Bulma (Tiffany Volmer), Oolong (Brad Jackson), Chi-Chi (Cynthia Cranz), and Gohan race toward the downed spaceship along with hordes of onlookers to see what happened. A bunch of soldiers emerge and declare that the Earth now belongs to Lord Slug (Brice Armstrong). Interestingly, everyone laughs at them except Oolong, who rightly identifies them as a threat. The soldiers inform the onlookers that Lord Slug intends to “terra-freeze” the planet to use as a new ship, the why of that is never really explained, and then they start firing on everyone. Gohan decides to spring into action and proves himself more than capable of handling these low-level grunts.

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Random minions never fare too well in Dragon Ball Z.

Meanwhile, inside the ship Lord Slug and his handlers look on. We get the usual display of tyrannical power as Slug kills a few minions that displease him in some minor way. They watch what’s happening outside the ship via a video link and Slug notices the Dragon Ball atop Gohan’s hat and recognizes it for what it is. They head outside where Gohan is fleeing with his mother in his arms after she took a rather nasty gut punch. He lost his hat in the melee, and Slug scoops it up lovingly. Bulma stupidly comments on the Dragon Ball, and Slug realizes she knows more than she’s letting on. He grabs ahold of her and demonstrates one of his abilities – the power to read minds. In seconds he knows all and steals Bulma’s dragon radar. Without much of a time jump, Slug is shown on the roof of his ship with all seven dragon balls. Slug, who is green of skin and some-what elderly looking, summons Shenron (Sabat) and wishes for eternal youth. Shenron, apparently being kinder than most wish-granting beings in other media, restores Slug to his physical prime much to his delight. They soon begin the terra-freezing process and the Earth rapidly cools.

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The henchmen of Lord Slug (left to right):  Wings, Angila, Medamatcha

Back at their home, Chi-Chi prepares tea and soup for everyone to fight off the cold. She’s still a bit sore from the beating she took earlier. When she goes to give Gohan his soup she finds him gone, and he’s taken his Piccolo attire. The Gohan-Oolong team from The World’s Strongest has been re-formed, with Oolong even sporting the same outfit from their previous arctic journey. Icarus is along too, and they’re spying on the goings-on around Slug’s ship. They soon attract some unwanted attention from Slug’s men, and unable to escape, Gohan prepares for a fight. Per usual, his guardian angel of sorts, Piccolo, shows up to give him a hand just when it seems like he’s about to be bested. Piccolo squares off with a demonic looking henchman named Wings (John Freeman), while Gohan takes on Medamatcha (Kent Williams). Piccolo finds he’s much stronger than his adversary and kind of toys with him a bit, which ends up being a foolish move because Gohan has more than he can handle with Medamatcha, who has a unique ability to sprout four mini versions of himself that are capable of draining energy.

Piccolo finally obliterates Wings, just as Gohan looks like he’s about to go down for the count. As he rushes to help him, Slug’s other henchman Angila (John Burgmeier) takes notice. They try to finish Gohan off, but Piccolo is able to absorb their blasts. The two may be alive, but Piccolo is in bad shape. Without being able to muster a defense, they’ll soon perish.

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Medamatcha is one of the crazier villains we’ve seen thus far.

Goku awakens somewhere nearby and is shocked to see the world is basically frozen. Yajirobe (Mike McFarland) had witnessed what happened from Koren’s Tower and brought some senzu beans to revive Goku and Krillin. They can’t waste time though as Gohan and Piccolo are in need of some aid and they rush to help out. Goku is able to prevent Medamatcha and Angila from killing his son and friends, and offers his usual warning to his foes before getting to it. Medamatcha and Angila at first appear to be doing well in their coordinated effort to take out Goku. Angila is able to stretch his arms out and grab ahold of Goku while Medamatcha sets his mini-me’s to work in draining Goku’s energy. It’s all for naught as Goku easily overpowers the duo forcing Lord Slug to come out and face him.

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Goku taps into his rage to into Not-Super Saiyan mode.

Krillin is apparently unimpressed by the imposing looking Lord Slug and attempts to take care of him all by himself which just results in a comedic moment of Slug batting the fool away about 1,000 meters. Goku correctly notes that Lord Slug has tremendous power, and he even finds himself overmatched. King Kai, who has popped in here and there through-out the film with an anecdote or two, telepathically warns Goku about Slug. When things seem to be at their most dire, Goku is able to summon the strength to battle back. He tries to implore his friends to lend him their energy, but King Kai (Schemmel) lets him know they have nothing left to give. This causes Goku to transform – sort of. He acquires the yellow aura of a Super Saiyan, but nothing else. Since this film came out during the battle with Frieza, but before Goku entered the fray, he’s apparently not quite a Super Saiyan yet making this moment a sort of halfway point. It’s kind of silly, but his form is obviously effective in that he beats back Slug.

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Slug turns the tables by making himself taller than a skyscraper.

Slug, fearing defeat, decides now is the time to unleash his full power. He tears off his arm, which had been broken by this enraged Goku, and regenerates it back confirming what most viewers probably already figured out – Lord Slug is a Namek. Not just any Namek though – a Super Namek! At least, that’s what King Kai calls him. He gives Goku a quick history lesson. Apparently Slug is an exclusive Namek in that he and a small number of others attainted this power. They were evil though, and the other Nameks used the power of the Dragon Balls to banish them from Planet Namek. Slug then grows to a gargantuan size, similar to what King Piccolo and Piccolo Jr. demonstrated in Dragon Ball. They fight, but Goku has seemingly lost the power surge from earlier, or he just can’t match Slug’s.

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“Hey Goku, what do you think of my smile? That Eternal Dragon sure did a good job of restoring my grill.”

As Slug prepares to squish Goku like a bug, Piccolo pops in to grab Slug’s antennae. Echoing something Goku said to Raditz about Saiyan tails, Piccolo suggests grabbing a Namek by the antennae is especially painful. If so, it doesn’t appear to bother Slug a whole lot as he tosses Goku aside and grabs Piccolo instead. Piccolo then does an odd thing – he rips off his own ears. He calls out to Gohan to do his whistling from earlier. Gohan, still laying on the ground half-dead, hears Piccolo and does as he’s told. Slug’s gigantic, Super Namekian ears pick-up on the noise and he starts freaking out much like Piccolo did earlier. He drops Piccolo, who then transfers his energy to Goku, so he can finish the job. Just as he did as a boy to King Piccolo, Goku launches himself directly into Slug’s chest and then through it. Slug isn’t dead just yet though, as Goku flies into the sky to prepare a Spirit Bomb to destroy Slug’s ship, the Super Namek grabs him by the foot forcing Goku to instead use the bomb on him. No harm, no foul though as the bomb is able to take out both Slug and his horrible ship and the Earth is safe once again. The movie ends on a joke, as others have before it, only this one is pretty bad. I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it though.

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Piccolo at least gets to play more prominent role in this one.

It would seem the consensus on the internet is actually right about this one, at least as it compares with the first three Dragon Ball Z films. Lord Slug is indeed the worst of the three. Alien invaders seeking to freeze the entire planet to use as some sort of vessel is pretty bizarre. Maybe if Toei could have come up with a valid reason for why this was necessary it could have worked, but instead they just let it hang in the air. Worse is the rather lazy writing. Goku and Krillin get taken out by Slug’s ship, but they’re out of action for way too long. At the same time, it takes Slug no time at all to amass the Dragon Balls. Way too much happens between Goku getting knocked out and returning to battle. Furthermore, the Super Saiyan transformation isn’t discussed as a possibility though-out the picture, so when Goku “transforms” it’s not earned. Instead, he just goes from getting pummeled to suddenly dominating.

The one-sided fights are too frequent in Lord Slug. There are basically no even matches. Either a hero is over-powered or a villain is, and there’s a seesaw effect at play. It makes for boring action sequences. I don’t mind seeing a couple instances of this, but it usually leads to a fight where both competitors are on relatively equal footing, at least it has in prior films so far. As a result, Lord Slug has some of the weakest action sequences so far, and worst of all it also doesn’t look so great in places. In particular, when powered-up Goku goes on the attack the effects look awful. Buildings look like they’re made of cardboard and the debris is all floaty. Even the big attacks aren’t particularly interesting looking, though I did appreciate the nod to Dragon Ball with Goku’s super headbutt attack.

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The movie isn’t the best, but I don’t lay that on the massive shoulders of Lord Slug himself.

As a villain, Lord Slug doesn’t bother me much. He has a solid design, and the slow reveal that he’s a Namekian is kind of fun, though if you were paying attention you probably would have noticed the signs. He wears a helmet throughout the film leading up to the reveal, which is why it isn’t obvious. The whole Super Namekian is kind of cheesy sounding, but I like the little built-in lore, even if I find the King Kai narration bits intrusive. The whole high-pitched sound weakness thing though is pretty stupid. I guess it’s better than having Slug get dispatched in the same manner as so many other villains, but if Namekians really had such a weakness wouldn’t it show up more often?

Lord Slug was under-served by the movie that bares his name (in English anyway). It’s the first, and likely not the last, Dragon Ball Z film that really feels half-assed. Lord Slug is an interesting villain, and it wouldn’t have bothered me to see the other Super Nameks come into play in a future film, though it never happened. They probably would have used that silly whistle thing to topple them anyway, so maybe it’s good this is the last Super Namek we see. Lord Slug is a movie of recycled bits and half measures, it’s entirely forgettable. Is it actually bad though? I suppose it’s like a bad episode of the show – it’s not particularly memorable, and doesn’t have a signature dazzling moment, but it doesn’t feel like a total waste of time. You just likely won’t feel like watching it again for a long time, if ever.

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Dragon Ball Z: The Tree of Might

DBZ_THE_MOVIE_NO._3Japanese Title:  The Decisive Battle for the Entire Earth

Original Release Date:  July 7, 1990

English Release:  November 1997 (Broadcast of Pioneer/Ocean Productions), March 17, 1998 (Ocean re-dub for VHS), November 14, 2006 (Funimation)

Directed by:  Daisuke Nishio

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running time:  65 minutes

We have arrived at the last of the original trilogy of Dragon Ball Z films as American audiences knew them – The Tree of Might. This film was actually the first brought to America by Saban Entertainment and Ocean Productions and was first adapted for television as a three-part story arc and originally aired sometime in November of 1997. It was then re-dubbed with a more accurate translation again by Ocean and released the following March on VHS in an uncut format. When Funimation re-dubbed it again with its own talent for the 2006 release, it for some reason utilized the script from the 1997 broadcast version, thus making this arguably the worst translation for any of the 13 film dubs released by Funimation. Considering there isn’t a whole lot of important dialogue in a given Dragon Ball Z film, this may not seem like a big deal, but dubs for this movie are some-what important because of the villain:  Turles.

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Turles, or Tullece, is some sort of Evil Goku not to be confused with the more recently created Dragon Ball Super enemy Goku Black.

Turles (Chris Patton) is a Saiyan who leads a group of miscreants that seem to be some sort of intergalactic pirates. They travel the galaxy in search of a host planet for the Tree of Might – a massive tree that absorbs all of the nutrients in a planet to sustain it and bares fruit that, when consumed by mortals, bestows them with tremendous power. The confusion within many dubs is due to the fact that Toei decided to make Turles look identical to Goku (Sean Schemmel), save for a slightly darker complexion. Many dubs have tried different ways to explain it. In some he’s Goku’s brother, in at least one other he’s his uncle. In the first English dub, the character explains that he and Kakarot (using Goku’s Saiyan birth name) are from the same mold, but doesn’t elaborate further. In the re-dub, he explains that all lower class Saiyans tend to look the same. The truth seems to be less interesting and more of an artistic tool for Turles shares no blood with Goku and is merely a stand-in for what Goku could have become had he never grown up on Earth. Fair enough.

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Meet Icarus. If you don’t like him then good news, you only have to deal with him a few more times after this.

This film also marks the debut of perhaps Toei’s most beloved addition to the Dragon Ball universe:  the dragon Icarus. Icarus is a little, plump, purple dragon that is rescued by Gohan (Stephanie Nadolny) early in the film and becomes his sort-of pet. He’ll show up in a few other movies, mostly ones where Gohan is still a child, before sort of fading away. He also jumps into the main series from time to time during some of Toei’s filler, like The Garlic Jr. Saga. For some fans, he’s kind of viewed derisively as some just look down on anything that was not in the original manga by Akira Toriyama, though I think most see him for what he is – a harmless, cute, animal companion for Gohan to bond with.

The film begins with a camping trip. Bulma (Tiffany Volmer), Krillin (Sonny Strait), Oolong (Bradford Jackson), and Gohan are going to spend the night outside not too far from Goku’s home. Camping doesn’t seem like the type of thing Bulma would traditionally go for, but we’ll go with it. While they sleep, a massive forest fire breaks out and Krillin and Gohan are forced to spring into action to put it out. Despite their best efforts, the forest is basically destroyed, but Bulma has the wise idea to gather the Dragon Balls to wish for Shenron to restore the forest to its former beauty. The next day, they do just that while Gohan also befriends the aforementioned Icarus (which just thrills his mother, Chi-Chi).

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The Turles Gang, who really deserve a better name than that.

Unknown to our heroes, is that the cause of the fire was a probe launched from space that touched-down on Earth. The probe was sent by Turles to scout the Earth as a potential host for the Tree of Might. Satisfied with the results, Turles’ men head down to the surface and plant the tree, which attracts the attention of King Kai (Schemmel). He quickly contacts Goku to let him know about the tree’s presence, imploring him to put an end to it right away before it kills the planet. Goku immediately springs into action, and together with most of his friends, they head out to crush the tree.

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That’s a big tree.

Goku and his friends encounter the tree, which has already grown to a massive size and is visible from space, and give it all they have, but fail to so much as scratch it. Turles’ minions soon show up and a fight breaks out. A lot of the battle feels like a redux of the Saiyan conflict from the main series. Krillin breaks out the Destructo Disc while Yamcha (Christopher Sabat) uses his weird Spirit Ball attack. Most of them appear out-matched, leaving Goku to clean up most of the mess. Gohan, having snuck out of his house with Icarus, soon arrives to try and help out as well which attracts the attention of Turles himself.

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Damn kids.

Turles confronts Gohan recognizing him to be a Saiyan. Turles is well-aware of the fact that Goku lives on Earth, but he did not know about his son. Gohan, frightened by the fact that Turles resembles his father, is at first hesitant to fight. Turles tries to win him over to his side, but of course that goes no where. When Gohan does finally attack he finds himself severely outclassed. Turles, apparently giving up on winning over the young Saiyan, opts to kill him instead, but good old Piccolo (Sabat) shows up to make the save. Using Piccolo’s affection for the boy to his advantage, Turles is able to quickly outmaneuver the Namekian and quickly lays him out. It’s at this point he notices that Gohan has regrown his tail, and deciding to have a little fun, he creates an artificial moon to bring out Gohan’s more primitive side.

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I like this Goku. He’s plenty powerful without being over-powered making for more visually interesting action scenes than some of the “teleporty” stuff to come.

By now, the others have taken notice of this imposter Goku. Goku tries to come to his son’s aid, but the giant ape version of Gohan is pure rage unable to distinguish between friend and foe. The only thing that seems to quiet Gohan is Icarus, and once Turles’ fun is over, he decides to once again kill the boy. Goku, in a bit of gimmick infringement, creates his own Destructo Disc attack to sever Gohan’s tail and spare him from being blasted by Turles. Krillin weeps seeing his one, good attack usurped by Goku.

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Pausing for a snack break.

With that out of the way, the stage is finally set for the confrontation the movie has been building towards:  Goku vs Turles. First, Goku has to dispatch of Turles’ remaining men which poses no real challenge. Once confronted, Goku and Turles appear to be somewhat evenly matched, but Goku soon gains the upper hand. Unfortunately for him, the Tree of Might’s fruit has ripened and Turles is able to grab one and consume it boosting his power significantly. He trashes Goku and tosses him off the tree, forcing the other Z Fighters to step in. As they distract Turles, Goku concentrates on forming the Spirit Bomb once again. The only problem though is that the Tree of Might has taken almost everything the Earth has to give. Turles is able to swat the Spirit Bomb away and things look dire. Every Dragon Ball Z movie has a deus ex machina to play though, and Goku begins absorbing energy from the Tree of Might itself to create an even bigger Spirit Bomb – one Turles is unable to overcome. He and the tree itself are destroyed, and life returns to normal once more.

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Since Goku and company are always eating those senzu beans, I guess it’s only fair Turles got to eat that weird fruit.

The Tree of Might is an odd one in retrospect. The general plot is fine and I actually kind of like it. It’s a little different from some guy just wanting the Dragon Balls or vengeance against Goku (a plot we will soon start to see in force). In some ways, the art style is peak Dragon Ball Z. It’s not as soft and rounded as the earliest stuff, or as simple and straight-lined as later sagas. There’s a lot of cool backgrounds as the Tree of Might saps the Earth leaving patches of dark, purple clouds. We get another Great Ape scene, and the designs on Turles’ gang are pretty fun, especially the weird cyborg goo-monster guy. I also like how the Spirit Bomb, often the last resort and trump card, fails initially, though the re-try is kind of lame.

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Z Warriors – Assemble!

Where things aren’t so great is in how familiar a lot of the action feels. While the animation is great, a lot of the bits are lifted directly from the fight against Nappa from the main series. I even suspect some animation could have been reused, like Yamcha “piloting” his Spirit Ball attack. And structurally it’s similar with Gohan becoming an ape and Goku needing time to create the Spirit Bomb. The only thing that didn’t happen is Turles didn’t go ape as well. Worth noting is that this is the first movie to contain basically all of the “Z Fighters.” Making their Dragon Ball Z film debuts is Yamcha, Tien (John Burgmeier), and Chiaotzu (Monika Antonelli) though they don’t have a whole lot to do.

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That Goku, always ruining his shirts.

This one feels some-what divisive for me. It might hold nostalgic value for a lot of folks in America because of its familiarity there. As I said, this might be the best looking of all of the Dragon Ball Z films, but like so many, it kind of botches the concluding moments. I’m also not sure how I feel about Turles looking like Goku. I think I get what Toei was going for with the character, but maybe it would have made more sense to just make him Goku’s twin or a clone or something. I think if the action bits had been a little more creative, and the conclusion more rewarding, The Tree of Might would be considered one of the best of the thirteen films, but right now it feels more middle of the pack.


Dragon Ball Z: The World’s Strongest

t89266p8t02Japanese Title:  The Strongest Guy in the World

Original Release Date:  March 10, 1990

English Release:  May 26, 1998 (Pioneer/Ocean Productions), November 14, 2006 (Funimation)

Directed by:  Daisuke Nishio

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running time:  58 minutes

In some ways, The World’s Strongest is perhaps the most unique of the 13 original Dragon Ball Z movies. It has a very sci-fi feel to it with some obvious design nods to classic tropes of the genre like 2001:  A Space Odyssey which gives the villains of the picture a very Dragon Ball feel to them. Think Red Ribbon Army era of Dragon Ball. It’s still also very much a DBZ film in how it’s setup and progresses. Released after the Saiyan Saga had just concluded on Japanese television (after episode 39, before episode 40), it contains a Goku who has been powered-up by King Kai and a battle-tested Gohan while Piccolo has also been softened and isn’t out to kill Goku any longer (though they’re still not exactly chummy). Like Dead Zone, The World’s Strongest was originally dubbed for english speaking audiences by Pioneer/Ocean and it was shown several times on Cartoon Network. Funimation re-dubbed it in 2006 without making any changes to the actual script, but at least it sounds like the rest of the series now.

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Oolong and Gohan are on a Dragon Ball hunt when our movie begins.

The film opens almost exactly like Dead Zone with Piccolo (Christopher Sabat) off by himself doing some training only this time we find him in an arctic climate. Meanwhile, Oolong (Brad Jackson) and Gohan (Stephanie Nadolny) are apparently somewhere nearby as they’re scaling a snowy mountain. Oolong has coerced Gohan into coming with him to find the Dragon Balls. He had been messing around with Bulma’s dragon radar back at the Kame House and noticed a bunch of the Dragon Balls had already been collected. Eying an opportunity to swipe-in and make a wish for himself (for women’s underwear, of course), he somehow convinced Gohan into tagging along to help him get the last few, but while in the arctic, Oolong is able to see that someone beat them to it via the radar.

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Piccolo vs the Saiba-I mean, Biomen.

On old man (Troy Baker) is shown summoning Shenron (Christopher Sabat), The Eternal Dragon, in the same snowy, mountainous area as the others. He wishes for Shenron to release a lab containing a Dr. Wheelo (R Bruce Elliott) to be unfrozen and made accessible once again. The dragon does as requested and vanishes in a blaze of light as the ice begins to rumble and crack. Gohan and Oolong arrive to see the dragon leave and are soon attacked by the old man’s Biomen. The little blue creatures are basically Saibamen without faces (Toei probably saw an easy way to save a few bucks) and they swarm around Gohan and Oolong. Piccolo senses the fighting nearby and swoops in to dispatch of the little creatures in short order. Gohan, who adorably refers to Piccolo as Mr. Piccolo, is delighted to see his friend, but Piccolo sternly sends the two home while he plans on investigating what’s going on. As the two leave, Piccolo is confronted by three other fighters that must be working with the old man. Piccolo is overwhelmed and we’re kept in the dark as to how the fight unfolded.

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After dispatching of the Biomen, Roshi is confronted by the old man who has a proposition for him.

Back at the Kame House, the little blue Biomen make another appearance along with the old man. They’re there for Master Roshi (Mike McFarland), who’s a bit confused but willing to fight. When the old man reveals that his minions have cornered Bulma (Tiffany Vollmer), Roshi is forced to go along with their wishes and accompanies them to the arctic. Oolong, who had already returned from his own little adventure with Gohan, saw the whole thing and feels pretty guilty. He and Gohan had agreed to not tell anyone about their unsuccessful Dragon Ball hunt, Oolong fearing retribution from Bulma for swiping her radar and Gohan fearing what his mother would do to him. Oolong now realizes that’s probably not realistic and he sets out to Goku’s house where the two come clean about what happened. Goku (Sean Schemmel) is concerned, and sets out alone to find Master Roshi and Bulma while Gohan is to be punished.

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Goku fights the big, yellow, stretchy, scrotum monster.

At the lab of Dr. Wheelo, Master Roshi is forced to fight the same Biomen that apparently defeated Piccolo. He holds his own for a short while, but eventually they’re able to overwhelm him with their superior numbers. Roshi is defeated, but not dead, while Bulma is forced to look on. She lashes out at the old man, who finally comes clean about who he is. His name is Dr. Kochin, and he and his partner Dr. Wheelo were apparently some scientists known around the globe. Dr. Wheelo especially was considered brilliant, but they did some experiments considered unethical and were forced to retreat to the remote mountainous area they currently occupy where an avalanche apparently sealed their fate some 50 years ago. Bulma, being a scientist herself, knew of them and is astounded to see they’re still alive – sort of. Dr. Kochin appears to be just really old, but Dr. Wheelo’s body was destroyed. Kochin was able to save him by preserving his brain and placing it in a machine. He can communicate via traditional speech through the machine, despite having no mouth, and it’s revealed that they seek the strongest fighter in the world to place Dr. Wheelo’s brain in creating the ultimate being. Not surprisingly, they seek world domination, because who isn’t?

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Dr. Wheelo’s existence seems pretty boring.

Unfortunately for them, their knowledge of the strongest fighters in the world is rather dated considering their 50 year exile. Bulma lets them know that Roshi has long been supplanted and spills the beans that Goku is the strongest fighter in the world. Conveniently enough, he happens to be on his way and Dr. Wheelo demonstrates that he can actually sense the approaching fighter. He quickly realizes that Goku possesses the body that he wants.

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Goku has some new moves to show-off in this one.

Goku finds the massive laboratory deep in the arctic. Even though he knew he was heading for a cold climate, Goku neglected to change out of his traditional orange gi and into something warmer. As he is confronted by a bulbous yellow Bioman, he finds it difficult to power-up due to the extreme cold. He flees into the lab, where he then takes on the monster who has a really stretchy exterior. Impervious to pain, Goku is forced to use his Kaio-Ken technique to blast right through him, similar to how he dispatched of King Piccolo. He heads into the next area, giving this progression a real video game feel, to take on the next foe. There’s a rather stylized and humorous confrontation that makes it seem like the battle will be brief, but Kochin’s bio-monsters apparently can take a beating. The remaining two gang up on Goku. One possesses a Superman like frost breath attack while the other, a demonic looking fellow with arms protruding wires, has an electric attack.

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Crap, looks like Piccolo is evil again.

When it seems like Goku might have a problem on his hands, the cavalry arrives. Gohan, who was actually shone leaving his home via airplane in defiance of his mother, arrives with Krillin (Sonny Strait) to help out. They’re able to take out the remaining bio-monsters only to find out that Dr. Kochin has a surprise in store for them – a mind-controlled Piccolo! We get a taste of the fight we were denied in Dead Zone as Goku and Piccolo duke it out. Gohan is really bothered to see his father and his mentor fighting each other and turns his attention to the brain in the wall. He has his meltdown moment, as he often does during this era of DBZ, and the force is enough to free Piccolo of the mind control device on his head and convince Dr. Wheelo that he needs to take care of things himself.

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Dr. Wheelo’s surprise.

By now, Dr. Kochin has revealed he’s in fact a cyborg of some kind by transforming his arm into a canon to attack the heroes. Dr. Wheelo also reveals that his brain isn’t just fixed in some wall-mounted container, but actually part of a giant mech that emerges from the wall. Master Roshi, Goku, and Krillin combine to do a triple Kamehameha attack but it’s not enough. Dr. Wheelo is quite powerful, and it quickly becomes apparent it will take everything our heroes have to take him out.

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Well isn’t this cute.

The battle starts off as a collective effort, but it becomes a Goku vs. Dr. Wheelo battle soon enough. It becomes apparent to Goku that he’s going to need to use his newest technique, The Spirit Bomb, if he wants to defeat Dr. Wheelo for good. The Spirit Bomb makes its film debut, and it will become kind of a trope in subsequent films, but at least here it’s new and fresh. Forming the attack takes time, so the others have to help out if Goku is going to be successful with his attack. It’s a pretty spectacular battle that takes place in the earth’s atmosphere, with lots of effects and attacks with few false finishes, as those can get annoying. The film will actually end, after all is said and done with the enemies of the film, on a joke that actually lands. It’s at Master Roshi’s expense, and he’s always easy to craft jokes for. The film is a tidy 58 minutes, a great deal longer than Dead Zone and it makes good use of it.

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As is often the case, it all comes down to Goku vs the big bad guy in the end.

Dr. Wheelo and Dr. Kochin are an interesting pair. They’re very different from the usual villains in design since they’re not super-powered beings. Instead their essentially androids, or cyborgs if you want to get technical, though they’re not really anything like the other androids from the show. Dr. Wheelo has a real Metal Gear vibe to him, and it’s just kind of cool seeing Goku and company battle a giant metal monstrosity like him. They’re so different though that it does make them feel less credible because it feels like Goku should be able to rip through a metal body. Ignoring that, it does end up being a satisfying confrontation, but I would understand if some don’t really care for Dr. Wheelo and Kochin.

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One of my favorite smaller moments from the film is this bit where Krillin runs along a wall to avoid getting whacked.

Aside from the “main event,” the other action bits throughout the feature are actually really fun. There seems to be a bit more money behind The World’s Strongest than Dead Zone and it shows in the fights. The icey landscape also looks great, and while the enemy designs aren’t as fun as Dead Zone, they’re still satisfying and at least each enemy has something unique to them that works in animation. I like that Goku has the King Kai insignia on his back and that Gohan is in his Piccolo attire as well and we even got to see Oolong, who I’ve always enjoyed. Some of the big moments from the concluding battle are a bit derivative of Goku’s battle with Vegeta, but it was probably a neat novelty to see it played out in a movie theater as opposed to a television set back in 1990.

So far, the Dragon Ball Z films are demonstrating a nice progression. Dead Zone was perfectly fine, but I do feel that The World’s Strongest is the better film. It’s longer, but well-paced, with some great action bits and a nice setting. I like the setup of a dormant, out of touch villain seeking out Master Roshi thinking he’s the strongest fighter in the world. The sort-of Dragon Ball feel the film possesses definitely appeals to me, though I bet the average Dragon Ball Z fan probably is a little down on the villains presented here. The formula for these films is also still young here, and eventually our characters are going to get quite super-powered and things will feel less fresh. I kind of wish we had more movies set before the Frieza Saga, but it’s also been about 20 years since I’ve seen these things so I’m curious to see how my opinions change as I re-watch all of these. For now, The World’s Strongest is the best of the Dragon Ball Z movies, but I suspect that will change.


Dragon Ball Z: Dead Zone

DBZmovie1_JapanJapanese Title:  Return My Gohan!!

Original Release Date:  July 15, 1989

English Release Date:  December 17, 1997 (Pioneer/Ocean Productions), May 31, 2005 (Funimation)

Directed by:  Daisuke Nishio

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running Time:  42 minutes

For the very fist Dragon Ball Z movie I feel like we need to do a little house-keeping before we get into it. When Pioneer tried to bring Dragon Ball Z to North America, they contracted Ocean Productions to dub the first 100 or so episodes as well as the first three movies. As a result of many re-runs on Cartoon Network, English speaking fans are likely pretty familiar with the first three films:  Dead Zone, The World’s Strongest, and Tree of Might. The original dubs were edited and contained some odd choices in terms of translation, though Ocean at least hired quality talent. They held the rights to the films long after Funimation started dubbing the episodes Ocean never tackled, and once the rights expired Funimation went back and re-dubbed the first three films with their own cast that fans are now likely more familiar with. In doing so, they also inserted a new soundtrack that was okay, at least it didn’t utilize a bunch of awful licensed music like their dub of the OVAs, but I’m sure it was frustrating for fans of the Japanese dub. When Funimation re-mastered and re-released all of the movies in 2011 they wisely restored the Japanese soundtrack (though oddly they went with their generic butt-rock opening theme instead of “Cha-la Head Cha-la” for the English dub with Japanese BGM. If you want the original opening music you have to watch the full Japanese audio) while still including the US soundtrack for people who wanted it. There’s also the option to listen to the Japanese audio with subtitles, something that’s pretty much a given these days, but once upon a time was not a guaranteed feature.

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The dreaded Dead Zone, from which the English version of the film takes its name.

Dead Zone, or Return My Gohan!!, is basically set before the events of Dragon Ball Z. If not for the fact that Master Roshi and co. are unaware of the existence of Gohan to start DBZ then this film could be shoe-horned into the canon. It features the villain Garlic Jr. (Chuck Huber), and if you’re wondering who Garlic Sr. is and concerned you may have forgotten about him – don’t worry, he’s never existed in Dragon Ball. The film was originally released theatrically in Japan right after the conclusion of the Raditz conflict, and grossed around 9 million USD. I don’t know if that performance was viewed as positive or not, but for comparison 1988’s My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies is estimated to have grossed around 5 million, so it would seem this was pretty solid. Especially considering that Dead Zone is largely animated in the same manner as the anime series. There’s little in the way of extra flourishes, instead it just looks like Toei utilized their full budget and best team so it looks like one of the ‘A’ episodes of Dragon Ball Z. Stylistically, it also fits right-in with the style of the early episodes of the series with more curved lines and rounded musculature on the characters as opposed to the later, more straight-line heavy look of the series that’s likely the defining style of the show these days.

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Garlic Jr. is our featured enemy. He kind of looks like a cross between Piccolo and Emperor Pilaf (and basically sounds just like Pilaf in the Funimation dub).


Dead Zone
has a cold open, a trend for the films, and starts on Piccolo (Christopher Sabat) quietly training on his own before he’s accosted by some shady characters. They mention Kami and it’s obvious they want to eliminate not just Piccolo but also the Earth’s guardian. Unknown to them, apparently, is that both are linked to the Dragon Balls because the characters mention them as well. Piccolo is overwhelmed and apparently left for dead. We’re then taken to Goku’s house where Gohan (Stephanie Nadolny) is quietly studying in the woods nearby. When his mother Chi-Chi (Cynthia Cranz) calls him in, his Grandpa the Ox King (Kyle Hebert) pulls up and Gohan cheerfully greets him. The same shady characters that accosted Piccolo show up. They quickly dispatch the giant Ox King and Chi-Chi and make off with Gohan before Goku (Sean Schemmel) can return from fishing.

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Garlic Jr.’s somewhat effective henchmen.

Our enemy is revealed to be Garlic Jr. and he has a gang of demonic looking underlings by the names of Ginger (Troy Baker), Nicky (Doug Burks), and Sansho (Eric Dillow). Garlic Jr. is collecting the Dragon Balls so that he may wish for eternal life. He also apparently has a score to settle with both Kami (Christopher Sabat) and Piccolo. The gang has kidnapped Gohan not because they have any interest in the boy, but because his hat bares the four-star Dragon Ball, as it does in the earliest episodes of the show. Garlic Jr. immediately notices the boy has hidden strength and decides to keep him on as a ward of sorts. When Gohan says his daddy Goku will rescue him, the gang is familiar with the name as Goku famously toppled Piccolo in the most recently completed World Martial Arts tournament.

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The sight of his defeated wife is enough to anger any man, even Goku.

Goku returns home to find his wife and father-in-law incapacitated, but Chi-Chi was able to tell him what happened. Goku then heads for Kame House where Bulma (Tiffany Volmer), Master Roshi (Mike McFarland), and Krillin (Sonny Strait) are hanging out. Goku needs Bulma’s dragon radar so he can track the Dragon Ball on Gohan’s hat to find his location. He retreves it, and Master Roshi gives him a warning to be careful as he takes off on the Flying Nimbus armed with his power pole to save his son. Along the way, he notices the tell-tale dark clouds forming in the sky indicating that all seven Dragon Balls have been united and Shenron, The Eternal Dragon, has been summoned.

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There’s a very Dumbo-like scene of Gohan eating some kind of apple that is apparently not intended for children which causes him to act like a drunk.

Garlic Jr. is able to summon the dragon, and if you think one of the good guys is going to jump in just in time to prevent him from making his wish then you are mistaken. Garlic Jr. is granted immortality, and his path to ruler of the world appears clear. Goku shows up, unimpressed by the diminutive kidnapper and unafraid of his new power, and takes on all of Garlic’s fiends. Kami also arrives to challenge Garlic Jr. himself, the two apparently having a score to settle. Goku is overwhelmed by the multiple opponents, but luckily for him, Krillin apparently had followed him and shows up to help. Even more of a surprise for Goku, Piccolo comes strolling in and he too has an obvious score to settle (at this point in time, Goku and Piccolo are fierce rivals with Piccolo seeking to end Goku’s life) with Garlic Jr. and his gang.

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This team-up would have been a lot cooler if it hadn’t just occurred in the anime.

With their combined might, a final showdown is imminent and we also get an explanation from Kami about why Garlic Jr. hates him. Apparently his father, Garlic Sr., was a rival to Kami when he sought the role of Guardian of Earth. Kami was granted the title, having bested Garlic in some sort of a trial, and enraged, Garlic tried to take the title by force. Being some sort of demon ruler, he summoned hordes of fiends to aid him but was beat back by Kami and his predecessor and sealed away for eternity, apparently in the place our film is titled after, The Dead Zone. Garlic Jr., therefore wants to avenge his father’s defeat while also usurping Kami. He transforms and goes from being a small, goblin-like creature to a massive one who towers over Piccolo and Goku. He also has a trump card he can play if things go wrong for he is capable of opening a portal to the Dead Zone that once trapped his dear old dad.

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Kami is not match for Garlic Jr.

The final 20 minutes or so of this rather brief feature is mostly fighting, and it’s a lot of fun to witness this old style of DBZ combat. This is before Goku could even fly so the action is quick, but there’s none of that cheap “teleporting” combat that can be rather boring to watch. Garlic Jr.’s minions also have this neat ability to basically pull blades out of their anatomy. There’s some nice swordplay and dodging on display, as the action builds. By comparison though, the actual fight between Garlic Jr. and the duo of Piccolo and Goku is quite short. The ending is a bit odd, and it’s actually better explained later in the anime during the Garlic Jr. Saga (Garlic Jr. being the only movie enemy who got to make a jump into the main series as part of some of Toei’s continuity-busting filler), though the general way it unfolds is somewhat expected.

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In what is commonplace for DBZ, the once un-intimidating villain transforms into something more deadly. Of course, Frieza will eventually take this one step further by going from tame, to scary, and back to tame again.

Dead Zone is a perfectly solid way to kick-off the Dragon Ball Z movie franchise. The story almost fits in with the series, and it’s kind of like an alternate way to introduce the character of Gohan and bridge Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z. I like how it tries to kind of upend the status quo by having the villain very early in the picture actually make a wish for immortality. It’s one of those wishes that has been teased and will be teased numerous times in the show, but never feels like something that will actually be attained. Garlic Jr. is also fine as a villain, and it’s nice seeing Kami get a chance to do something since he’s mostly a background character in the anime. It’s guilty of relying a little too much on characters just popping in at the right time to help out, which will become overplayed eventually, but with characters capable of moving at the speed of sound it’s not as glaring an issue as it would be for other franchises. There’s also some nice, very Toriyama-like humor, with Gohan and the bad guys. It is impressive how well Toei is able to maintain the tone of the show without input from its author proving that the company does understand the material quite well. Goku is also less of a doofus and it’s kind of refreshing to see him actually get pretty angry when he finds Chi-Chi defeated and his son missing.

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If you liked Garlic Jr., then I have good news for you! Unlike the other villains we’ll see in these films, he actually gets to appear in the anime series right after the Frieza arc and just before The Androids Saga.

Overall, I enjoyed catching up with Dead Zone after not seeing it for many years. Having previously only seen the Ocean version, it was nice to see some scenes restored (like a funny urination joke) and hear that the dub works well. Dead Zone is available on Blu Ray as a two-pack with the second film, The World’s Strongest, or as part of a five-pack on DVD with movies 2-5. I watches this on the remastered DVD, and it definitely shows its age. The picture is grainy and there’s some film burns here and there as well. I find that aged look, as long as it’s done naturally, kind of charming so it doesn’t bother me. I never saw the HD transfer so that might be superior, but the five-pack can probably be had for 20 bucks or cheaper which is hard to beat. If you only ever saw it on Cartoon Network, it’s definitely worth a re-watch.


Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

220px-Movie_poster_who_framed_roger_rabbitNormally, I don’t like doubling-up on posts in a single day on this blog, and ever since last fall Friday has belonged to Batman. Well, I’m breaking my own self-imposed rule today, but it’s for a very good reason. Today is the 30th anniversary of the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit. On this day in 1988, the then most expensive movie in film history was released to the general public with a lot of buzz and a lot of trepidation. It was a collaborative effort between some of Hollywood’s hottest names; Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, and Walt Disney Studios. Adapted from the Gary Wolf novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, there was a lot of fear that the movie would be too “out there” for a general audience. So uncertain about how the film was to be received, actress Kathleen Turner, who voiced Jessica Rabbit, declined to be credited for her role in the film. There was some fear this thing would be received about as well as Howard the Duck, a notorious flop at the time, but it ended up being so much more.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is the story of a rabbit named Roger (voiced by Charlie Fleischer) who is framed for a murder he did not commit. Aside from the fact that he’s a rabbit, the plot sounds rather pedestrian at face value. What sets the film apart is its world and the world it shares with the “real world.” Roger Rabbit is a toon. He is a literal cartoon character. In the world created by this work of fiction, cartoons are just as real as you and me. They go to work, make cartoons, and go home. The toons behave like golden era cartoons – they’re wacky, prone to accidents, and always on the lookout for a laugh. At one point in the film, Roger is handcuffed and needs to get himself out. He ends up simply removing his hand from the cuff at one point, then putting it back. When his partner, Eddie, notices and gets furious with him for not just doing that to begin with, Roger explains he could only remove his hand when it was funny.

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Bob Hoskins stars alongside Robert as private eye Eddie Valiant.

Roger works for R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern) and is a star of Maroon Cartoons. Set in 1947, the film basically takes place during the waning days of the animated cartoon short. He is married to the impossibly attractive Jessica Rabbit, a buxom, hourglass figured toon who more or less resembles a human. The film starts out with Roger stressed out because there are rumors that Jessica has been up to no good with another man. Maroon wants private investigator Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) to do some digging to help his star out. The problem is, Eddie hates toons, but he loves money more. Eddie takes the job, and finds out that Jessica has actually been playing pat-a-cake with Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), the owner of Toon Town. When shown the images of his wife playing such a lurid game with another man, Roger goes off the deep end and is plunged into a depression (pat-a-cake is serious business to a toon, apparently). Then things take a dark turn when Marvin Acme turns up dead, and Roger is suspect number 1. Roger proclaims his innocence to Eddie, and Eddie is forced to decide if he wants to help out the incredibly annoying, but likely innocent, Roger or just walk away from the whole thing.

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Even humans are drawn to Jessica Rabbit.

The story unfolds like a classic mystery. You have the gruff detective, the innocent victim, and the femme fatale. Of course, nothing is ever truly what it seems. Shadowing the protagonists is the villainous Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) who too seems to have a hatred for toons. Eddie and Roger are going to have to do some sleuthing, and even take a trip to Toon Town where all of the toons reside, in order to solve this case.

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Roger’s co-star, Baby Herman, is used sparingly, but he’s a scene-stealer.

The story is admittedly fairly simple. The character of Jessica Rabbit is the most intriguing, and not because of her figure, but because she is a femme fatale done well. She possesses an air of mystery and uncertainty, the fact that she is apparently the most attractive toon and is attached to the rather goofy Roger helps to play this up. What truly sets Who Framed Roger Rabbit apart is the presentation. Live actors mix with cartoon ones in truly spectacular ways. We’ve seen this before from Walt Disney with the likes of Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, but not on this level. Those films merely feature a few sequences of cartoons and actors co-mingling, where as Who Framed Roger Rabbit is built around that dynamic, and it looks spectacular! When Eddie rides along in the toon cab, Benny, he looks like he’s really riding in it. When he wields a toon gun, it’s convincing. And the world of Toon Town is especially marvelous to look at with its impossible architecture and lavish color scheme. The movie is so visually stimulating that you could watch it in mute and still enjoy it.

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Christopher Lloyd is appropriately sinister as Judge Doom.

Even with the flashy presentation, the film still needed true chemistry between its real-life lead Eddie, and it’s toon co-lead Roger. Hoskins is fantastic at playing the straight-man Eddie. He takes everything seriously and has explosive reactions to all of the nonsense around him, but not in such a manner that would break the film. Helping to make sure he was able to form good chemistry with Roger, voice actor Charlie Fleischer dressed up as the character and would voice it off-camera. Seth McFarlane utilized a similar method when filming the more recent Ted to similar effect. I suppose it’s impossible to say if this truly worked or did not, but the results speak for themselves.

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Eddie and Roger go for a ride in Benny the Cab.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a unique looking film that was impossible to ignore when it was released, but it was still relying on a lead that had never been seen before in Roger. That’s why to help spruce up the film, Spielberg and Zemeckis wanted to make sure that Roger’s world was inhabited by recognizable cartoon characters. That ended up being the film’s strongest selling point as it promised, for the first time ever, that characters from both Disney and Warner Bros. would share scenes together. This leads to the wild team-up between Donald Duck (Tony Anselmo, with some archivable Clarence Nash) and Daffy Duck (Mel Blanc, in one of his last performances) who have a dueling pianos scene where the more outlandish Daffy seems to get on Donald’s nerves more and more as the scene goes on. Mickey Mouse (Wayne Allwine) and Bugs Bunny (Blanc) also get to share a brief scene, which contains an easter egg of Bugs flipping Mickey the bird (apparently, Disney was a bit of a pain to work with concerning how the characters could be portrayed and this was one way for the animators to have a little fun at their expense). Those represent the biggest cameos, but there are many, many more throughout the film from both companies, both major and minor. Part of the fun of watching the film is looking out for them and there’s always a chance that on re-watch you’ll see another you may have missed.

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Toon Town is a rather chaotic place.

There are so many things to pick out of Who Framed Roger Rabbit that it’s way too much for me to cover here. Suffice to say, if you’ve never seen this baby then you owe it to yourself to check it out. Much of the effects still stand up today, and much of the credit is owed to animation director Richard Williams. The toons are two-dimensional, but a lot of effort is made to make sure they look like they’re really inhabiting this world in the manner in which lighting is utilized and how often the camera moves. Working on this film must have been exhausting, but oh so rewarding in the end. Due to the nature of the license rights, the complexity of it shots, and incredible of expense of animating over live-action, a sequel has never truly got off the ground. Author Gary West has returned to the character for his novels, and Disney and Spielberg would probably both love to cash-in on the brand, but there are just too many hurdles to clear. Zemeckis has campaigned for a sequel on multiple occasions, but he’s been less vocal about it in recent years. Additional Maroon Cartoon shorts of Roger Rabbit were produced after the film, but even that was a touchy subject as Spielberg wanted to run them alongside his films while Disney wanted them for theirs. And supposedly Disney wanted to create a television show starring Roger Rabbit for their Disney Afternoon block, but Spielberg who was working on televised cartoons of his own (Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, etc) wouldn’t allow Roger to be utilized forcing Disney to create the character Bonkers the Bobcat. Roger has at least been allowed to live on in Disneyland’s Toon Town where he still has a dark ride to this day. Given that Disney has been replacing a lot of older dark rides to make way for more current franchises, one has to wonder if Roger’s days there could be numbered.

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One of the more character-packed shots in the whole film.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is likely one of the most popular and successful films to never get a sequel. It took in around $330M in 1988 dollars, a pretty substantial haul, which more than covered its estimated $50M cost. Its story and presentation are both timeless and also proof that Tex Avery styled humor and gags may never truly go out of style. The rather manic Roger Rabbit can appear off-putting to some, especially younger folks who may not have grown up on Looney Tunes, but apprehensions tend to fade away once the movie really gets going. I’ve introduced this film to a few people that weren’t enthusiastic about giving it a shot, only to see them won over in short order. It’s really one of the best things the Walt Disney Company has ever produced, even if it was released on their Touchstone label. I know it’s a Friday, but if you don’t have plans tonight, you could do a lot worse than settling in on the couch with your favorite snack and beverage for a showing of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.


Dragon Ball Z Movie Mondays!

2VMZ1zRFPnUQtQp5K4WRXvDYBjhWhen I first started this blog back in 2011, I just wrote whenever I felt like it. I was a bachelor at the time with no significant other so you would be safe to assume that I had a lot of free time on my hands. Despite that though, I didn’t post a ton here. I felt like if I could do one post per week I was doing pretty well, and then I think that slid to twice per month. That’s not a lot of content, but I’ve also never blogged here for any reason other than pleasure so it’s not as if I really felt like I needed to do more. By and large, it doesn’t matter to me how many people read or follow what I do here, I just do it because it’s kind of fun to talk to myself via blogging and it’s rewarding to see my thoughts preserved. I love and appreciate any attention I get from subscribed readers and commenters, but I’d probably keep posting even if no one read at all.

I’ve found over the years though that creating goals for myself in relation to this blog is what gets me to actually write. And the more I write, the more rewarded I feel. Doing annual Christmas posts gives me a goal and something to work towards and starting the feature on Batman: The Animated Series last year gave me a goal to keep up with throughout the whole year (as well as provided me a good reason to revisit an old cartoon I enjoy). Since starting that I’ve been in search of another goal. Writing about Batman constantly does get a bit old, which is why it’s probably a good thing I at least limited myself to one a week. If you like that feature though, don’t worry, it’s not going anywhere and I’m as committed to it now as I was when it started, but I am posting today to announce my next little project:  the movies of Dragon Ball Z!

As a smaller project than Batman, blogging about the 13 theatrically released Dragon Ball Z movies accomplishes similar goals, just on a smaller scale. I’ve wanted to revisit the movies for a long time, and a few I’ve actually never seen. They’re quite affordable on DVD, and since there are only 13 it makes for a nice summer time feature. Which is why every Monday this summer I’ll post a review/synopsis of each of the 13 original DBZ movies. Now you may be thinking to yourself, “What about the other two movies released in the last few years?” Well, I already did reviews for them, and if you want to check out my thoughts for Battle of Gods or Resurrection ‘F’ you can do so. Even though they are branded as Dragon Ball Z films, they’re actually part of Dragon Ball Super, but I suppose it’s all the same anyways.

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Most of the movies can be purchased in multi-pack DVDs or as two-part Blu Rays.

The original 13 films were produced and created by Toei without input from series creator Akira Toriyama. They’re supplemental stories to the overall narrative of the Dragon Ball Z story. They all have an obvious, general time in which they take place relative to the story, but almost none of them could actually exist in the main story for the simple reason that it doesn’t contain room for them. Movie 3 for instance, The Tree of Might, obviously takes place around the time that Goku fought Vegeta because of how powered-up Goku is, but Goku spent that time either in a hospital bed or in a spaceship heading for Planet Namek so the events of that movie could not have possibly occurred in the same universe. And that’s fine, why should it have to? These movies are just for fun and not intended to intrude upon the actual Dragon Ball Z plot. The sooner you’re able to get past that the sooner you can start enjoying them for what they are.

For my reviews, I’ll be going in chronological order and using the English release titles and character names for simplicity’s sake. These movies are all available both dubbed and subtitled so you can enjoy them however you wish, it makes little difference. They’re mostly extended fight scenes with minimal plot developments rendering the non-visual aspects of each film kind of moot. That’s not to say that some aren’t better than others. For the most part, the films all seem to try and take some aspect of the main series, like Goku unlocking the ability to turn Super Saiyan, and truncating that story into a 45 minute movie. Most of the films are under an hour with the longest only lasting 72 minutes, so there’s not a lot of room for complicated narratives. I mostly want my posts to be spoiler-free reviews, but I found my main point of criticism is often in how the film’s choose to wrap-up the story and they’ve turned into more of a discussion/analysis than a true review. I don’t really think there’s much to spoil in these movies, since often the cover art or title gives away most of the plot and each film needs to reset the status quo at the end. I’ll still try my best to avoid them though and warn those who haven’t watched these movies ahead of time if I’m about to spoil something major.

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Since the movies are non-canon, you’ll sometimes get to see match-ups that you would have never seen in the main series, like Trunks vs. Tien.

If you haven’t seen all of them though then I encourage you to watch along with me as I go. Dragon Ball Z is largely an imperfect series, but it’s also inherently fun. Because of the wish-fulfilling Dragon Balls, the stakes are often pretty low even when they seem vast and the movies are full of plenty of humorous moments as well. They’re often a place for the underused characters, especially Oolong, to have a little moment to themselves which is often quite nice. The super-powered Saiyans seem to soak up a lot of the attention in the series, and they do in the movies too, but it’s easy to forget that the franchise boasts some pretty entertaining supporting characters as well. If this all sounds like fun to you, then check back this Monday for our very first movie – Dead Zone! And if you’re seeing this for the very first time and I’m well into the series, use the drop-down menu to your right to find all of the Dragon Ball Z movie reviews in one handy place. And if you love Dragon Ball, but don’t care for the movies so much, well good news because I have a few other posts on the way concerning the subject. I hope to see you Monday!


The Chronological Donald – Volume 2

1e_66925_0_TheChronologicalDonaldVolume21What day is today? It’s Donald’s birthday! He made his debut in the Silly Symphonies short “The Wise Little Hen” on this day back in 1934 making him one of the oldest reoccurring characters at Disney. And while he may not be the oldest, he’s the most entertaining. Yes, more so than Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and all the rest. He was basically the star of Disney’s shorts in the 40’s and 50’s when other characters were seeing their workload reduced. It was basically the creation of Donald that allowed Mickey to settle into his more everyman role as the wholesome and unblemished face of the brand. And while Goofy and Pluto continued to receive steady work during these years, they never came very close to eclipsing Donald Duck who proved to be the most versatile and naturally funny character in the company’s arsenal. He was likable enough that the audience could be asked to root for him, but possessed enough bad qualities that audiences could also delight in seeing him get his comeuppance.

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Volume Two of The Chronological Donald is best known for containing the WWII cartoons.

The Walt Disney Treasures collection is a series of DVD releases now long out of print. They fetch a pretty penny on the resale market now mostly because Disney has never really revisited them or printed them in mass quantities. They were the brainchild of film critic/historian Leonard Maltin, who felt these treasured shorts that defined Disney in the early days should be celebrated and made available. Since Disney no longer directly profits off of these cartoons, save for a bonus feature here and there on conventional releases, most of the shorts can actually be viewed on various streaming platforms online at no cost. Disney is expected to launch its own streaming service next year, so it will be interesting to see if lots of copyright claims start going up this year to get them pulled down.

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“Der Furher’s Face” contains some rather surreal imagery.

The DVDs are the way to go though if you want to watch these treasured shorts. Donald Duck had enough material to span four volumes, each being two discs, and of the four I think it’s safe to say the best overall collection is Volume 2. This captures the era of cartoons when Donald had settled into a nice groove, but had yet to become too formulaic. Released just after the Great Depression, there’s a lot of historical nuggets to chew on during disc one with Donald being rather poor and forced to ration things like rubber and gas. Perhaps most famously, are the World War II era cartoons contained in the “Vault” section on disc one. A lot of these could best be described as propaganda today, with Donald excitedly signing up for war in one and tackling Adolf Hitler in another.

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The boys have some fun at the expense of their uncle in “Donald’s Off Day.”

A great many Donald Duck cartoons typically place Donald in a fairly ordinary role, maybe in a conventional job or portraying a farmer, and then have him face-off with an adversary. In “Bellboy Donald,” he’s a bellhop on his last chance on the job to keep guests happy and he’s forced to deal with Pete’s punk kid who really tries his patience. In “Donald’s Garden” he’s a simple farmer with a rodent problem. A gopher, perhaps a precursor to the more famous duo of Chip and Dale, wants to eat his crops but Donald isn’t about to share. And then of course there’s his nephews which he clashes with at times such as in “Donald’s Snow Fight,” in which Donald wrecks their snowman and they plot revenge via a spectacular, over the top, snowball fight.

Other cartoons basically pit Donald against himself. In “The Plastic Inventor,” Donald tries to build a plane out of plastic, but he makes the mistake of getting it exposed to water while flying causing it to melt. In perhaps the best cartoon on disc two (and maybe the whole set), “Donald’s Crime,” he steals from his nephews’ piggy bank for a night on the town and is forced to confront the guilt he feels. And sometimes he’s also basically just playing the victim and we laugh at his misfortune, like in “Donald’s Off Day” where he just want to golf on his day off but the weather won’t allow it, forcing him to stay home with his nephews who play a vicious prank on him.

DonaldDuckInNutziLand_zpscc10584aThe war cartoons though, are definitely the most infamous on this set. Because they’re in The Vault and contain politically incorrect humor, they have a sort of forbidden fetish attached to them. They’re not all straight propaganda though. In “Donald Gets Drafted,” we see our duck protagonist in a very eager mood to enlist while a song cheerily lets us know that the Army is better than it’s ever been before. In the end though, while Donald hopes to be a fighter pilot, he just ends up going through basic training and is forced to peel potatoes. He gets some revenge against his mean drill sergeant, played by Pete, in the next cartoon, “The Vanishing Private,” when Donald uses invisible paint to disappear and harass his sergeant causing the general to think he’s crazy. “Der Fuehrer’s Face” is probably the most famous of these shorts, and not simply because it won an Academy Award. It depicts Donald in Nazi Germany being subjected to Hitler’s numerous brainwashing techniques and portraying daily life as horrible there. It also contains a rather unflattering portrayal of the Japanese, which also shows up in other shorts. It’s a surreal short though, and in the end it’s revealed to be a dream and Donald wakes up in the most garishly decorated bedroom of an unabashed American patriot. Everything about the cartoon is over the top, but it’s just so fascinating to watch as someone very far removed from that era.

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Goofy isn’t too good to appear in a Donald Duck cartoon.

If there is a shortcoming to this era of cartoons it’s that they’re not always the best looking. Some just weren’t properly taken care of, like “The Village Smithy” in which the film had aged so poorly Donald is basically yellow. Money was tight because of the war effort, so backgrounds are sometimes bland or sparse. The animation, by and large though, is still exceptional Disney quality animation. Another drawback though is perhaps the absence of more classic adversaries for Donald. Chip and Dale won’t show up until Volume 3, and they’re often thought of as Donald’s best foils. Pete is present in several shorts, and Donald pairs up with Goofy in a few others. There’s no Mickey though as he always receives top billing in any cartoon he shows up in. There are some one-off villains like a buzzard and gorilla, and if anything it’s nice to see some variety. The cartoons featuring Chip and Dale are more of a novelty than anything, as those two basically possess the same qualities as the gopher from “Donald’s Garden,” they just happen to be more recognizable.

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“A Day In The Life of Donald Duck” is probably my favorite special feature across the entirety of The Walt Disney Treasures line.

Volume 2 not only perhaps possesses the best set of Donald Duck cartoons ever created, but it also has arguably the best bonus features of any of the four. “A Day in the Life of Donald Duck” highlights the first disc and it’s a fake documentary of Donald’s day to day life from the old Disneyland TV series. He’s super imposed over live-action as he visits the Disney Studios in Burbank and even runs into his voice actor, Clarence Nash, at one point. It’s pretty funny and the effects still hold up well enough today. My own kids are convinced Donald is really interacting with the environment in it. Disc Two contains a sit-down between Maltin and current Donald Duck voice actor, Tony Anselmo. It’s a great interview and Anselmo details how he got the role, what it’s like to play Donald, and even discusses drawing and animating him. There’s also a retrospective on Carl Barks, long somewhat forgotten and ignored, Barks was the writer and artist for the Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck comic books that often didn’t even bare his name. He has since experienced somewhat of a renaissance as Disney tried to remedy that during the 90’s and 2000’s. It’s nice finally seeing him get his due.

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“Donald’s Crime” may not be as famous as the WWII cartoons, but it might be the best on the set.

If you wanted to get just one collection of Donald Duck cartoons, then Volume Two of The Chronological Donald is the way to go. It tends to be the cheapest due in part to 125,000 sets being produced, which is more than Volumes 3 and 4 combined, though not as many as Volume One. You may not get the fun first appearances of Daisy, the nephews, or Chip and Dale, but what you do get is a collection of really entertaining cartoons. All of the sets are pretty entertaining in their own right, but Volume Two is the one I come back to most frequently. The cartoons are just really funny and feature good variety, though I could understand if someone preferred Volume Three over this one since it has more familiar adversaries, some great cartoons in its own right, plus it features the more memorable Donald Duck theme song. If you’re a fan of The Duck, or a fan of classic animation in general, then you should probably just try and get all four volumes because I don’t think you can count on Disney re-releasing these anytime soon or in a better package.

The Shorts

1940

  • The Volunteer Worker (presented as a Bonus Cartoon on disc two)

1942

  • Bellboy Donald
  • The Village Smithy
  • Donald’s Snow Fight
  • Donald’s Garden
  • Donald’s Gold Mine

1943

  • Donald’s Tire Trouble
  • Flying Jalopy

1944

  • Trombone Trouble
  • The Plastics Inventor
  • Donald’s Off Day
  • Donald Duck and the Gorilla
  • Contrary Condor

1945

  • The Eyes Have It
  • Donald’s Crime
  • Duck Pimples
  • No Sail
  • Cured Duck
  • The Clock Watcher
  • Old Sequoia

1946

  • Donald’s Double Trouble
  • Wet Paint
  • Dumb Bell of the Yukon
  • Lighthouse Keeping
  • Frank Duck Brings ‘Em Back Alive

The Vault

  • Donald Gets Drafted (1942)
  • The Vanishing Private
  • Sky Trooper
  • Der Fuehrer’s Face (1943)
  • Fall Out – Fall In
  • The Old Army Game
  • Home Defense
  • Commando Duck (1944)