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Roberto Benigni's Pinocchio
Roberto Benigni's Pinocchio
DVD ~ Roberto Benigni
35 used & new from $2.11

14 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting ideas, but falls flat on all levels., October 25, 2003
This review is from: Roberto Benigni's Pinocchio (DVD)
Roberto Benigni received extremely harsh critical attack for his recent rendition of Collidi's classic fairy tale of a puppet who wished to become a wooden boy. Part of this is because Miramax decided to cut the film from 110 minutes to 99(!) -- often a bad mistake, as it can damage the effect of a film. But they added another slapping blow by overdubbing the character voices. In a foreign animated film, this works more successfully because an animation cel stands on its own. Unfortunately, it's not so in the case of live action. The line-readings of the voice actors clash horrendously with the moving mouth of the foreign language, and, here, in PINOCCHIO, it's just really awful. I only listened to bits and pieces of the dub, and although the voice cast is certainly talented and does a respectable job (except for Breckin Meyer as Pinocchio himself), their words are so poorly synchronized with the moving mouth that the results come across as disastrous.
Although the film holds well together in its native tongue and uncut version, one cannot help but wonder just what went wrong with this production. PINOCCHIO is definitely an ambitious picture; the costumes, set designs and cinematography are all strikingly beautiful. There are also lots of staggering special effects shots, from a carriage drawn by mice to an enormous shark in the sea. Such effects made the movie the most expensive in Italy --$45 million in total--; and Benigni should consider himself fortunate that it broke even in box office receipts. In America, however, it didn't have the same reception. Either because of the cutting and disastrous dubbing (despite the presence of big names in the cast such as John Cleese, Eric Idle, Cheech Marin, and Glen Close), or the fact that people could not accept this version, the movie was a dismal failure.
Part of the problem is the decision of having Benigni himself playing Pinocchio. I mean, come on! Benigni is WAY too old for Pinocchio, and a lot of the other "kids" in this picture are played by grown-ups! Somehow it didn't come off on me as glaring that such was the case, but I can just imagine why critics and film buffs would slamdunk this film for that cause. There are plenty of interesting concepts and ideas for the film; the Blue Fairy's costumes are gorgeous, and the image of a butterfly present in the film is very nice, but that's not enough to save this poor, troubled picture. There's hardly a sympathetic character in the movie; Pinocchio is supposed to be disobedient, yes, but here he's portrayed as a crazy maniac, refusing to behave or do anything good until he is goaded into it. The Talking Cricket is not much better. If you were spoiled by Jiminy Cricket from the (far superior) Disney version, prepare to be shocked - he not only looks a man with artificial antennas placed on his head, he also acts condescendingly. Instead of being encouraging, he comes across as a sarcastic, unhelping little jerk who just badmouths the "boy" instead of coaching him. Granted, I'm aware that this is true of the original Collidi tale (Disney "softened up" Pinocchio's personality for his film), yet here it's executed so awkwardly that it becomes difficult to become involved in this film. It also is not a very clear, focused picture: it's too dark and menacing for youngsters and too insane to appeal to older audiences.
A modern misfire, this version of PINOCCHIO is more likely to be remembered for its cinematography rather than its misguided story and below-average dubbing. (Even on the Italian original, there is some gratingly bad acting.)
Surprisingly, even though Miramax butchered this film in its theatrical release, they certainly produced a great package with this DVD. It's a two-disc set, complete with a very gorgeous transfer, and two different versions of the movie. One disc is the horribly recut U.S. release while the other is the uncut Italian version. Strangely, even an English language track is offered on the second disc as well, and it includes all the stuff that was cut from the U.S. premiere! Very interesting indeed, even if the dubbing still can't hold a candle to some of the better ones I've heard (mainly from animation films, because they don't have the same lip-sync problem that live-action ones do). Sadly, though, even the presence of the uncut version doesn't change the fact that this movie is a disappointing experience. It's gorgeous to look at, but it's certainly not a classic by any means.


Hercules (Gold Collection)
Hercules (Gold Collection)
DVD ~ Barbara Barrie
Offered by cds_dvds_guaranteed
Price: $29.26
41 used & new from $1.05

15 of 45 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The only Disney movie that I hate with a vengeance...., October 24, 2003
This review is from: Hercules (Gold Collection) (DVD)
If there is one Disney movie that I dare to call a disgrace, it would be this take on the Greek myth of Hercules. I understand that the movie has its fans, but I stand strongly by this rating. The biggest problem that this movie has is the overemphasis on too much comedy rather than true heroism. Even in ALADDIN (another inferior Disney movie which nevertheless got lucky thanks to Robin Williams' Genie), the humor was better balanced than in here. There is stuff to laugh at, yes, but jokes such as the "wearing HIS MERCHANDISE!!!!", "is my hair out?", and all others are packed so much within the film that it ultimately ends up becoming unfunny. Even the movie's so-called funniest character, Hades (voiced over-the-top by James Woods), falls flat on his face, delivering more comedy than malice. (And I wonder, did Disney even know that Hades was NOT a bad guy in the original Greek mythology?) I was also getting tired of seeing the references to the "Hercules" merchandise ala Disney style -- it makes the movie look, and feel, no doubt, like a commercial, not a movie. Obviously, Disney was trying to outdo ALADDIN by injecting all the jokes they could into this movie, and their failure is so spectacular. It's no wonder the movie was a major disappointment at both the box office and on video. I enjoy over-the-top comedy, but here it just didn't FEEL together, especially for scenes where there is NO comedy.
But there are other problems besides the forced comedy -- for one thing, Hercules is a HORRIBLE exaggeration of a muscular strongman. He starts out as a sympathetic young boy who is unable to control his strength but when he becomes a grownup... therein lies the intense dislike for him. So one-dimensional, so boastful, so annoying is Hercules that he ends up becoming the most unsympathetic character in the entire movie. Even the leading lady, Meg, is a disappointment. Sure, it's nice to have a character who changes from being cynical to a true friend, but it's handled so mechanically and so forced that she, too, is an unlovable character. All of this is not helped by a script which not only bastardizes the Greek myth (Odysseus, Jason, and Achilles failed Hercules' trainer? Hera LOVED Hercules? Zeus is a nice guy? Hades is evil?), but fails to engage in any way. The film's ultimate message that "a true hero is not made by the size of his strength but by the strength of his heart" is so poorly depicted that we actually find ourselves wishing that Hercules would indeed continue to be called "JERK-ules". Sorry, but a film which tries to be so funny and at the same time take itself seriously does not -- I repeat -- does NOT work.
Arguably the hugest injustice on the film is its soundtrack. Unlike some people, I actually enjoyed the gospel songs, but the inclusion of them in the film is only one other huge mistake on Disney's part. As fun as the songs are, they don't suit a film about Greek gods and heroes. I respect Alan Menken as a composer, but here he misfired. The other songs are not much better. "One Last Hope" sung by Danny DeVito is funny for a while, but is poorly composed and ill-suited. Meg's number is condescendingly weak, and even Hercules' song is awful. (I may have used it for a school alma mater, but that was before I truly realized how much of a dud it was.) Usually, songs are what make a Disney movie, but in HERCULES, it only is one more slapping insult to this joyless film.
I admit that I enjoyed HERCULES when I first saw it, but I began looking upon it with harsh skepticism when I saw that everybody else was. When I saw it again on video, I realized just how rotten a movie HERCULES was. I cannot recommend it to anybody. Before I even close off this review, I must say that there are few movies that offend me so strongly, but HERCULES did it for me. Disney has done so much better than this, and the film is so inconsistent as a whole that it only drives the final nail in the coffin. Search some of Disney's better movies instead -- HERCULES was, and still is to this day, a disgrace to come from the Mouse House, and a fine example on how NOT to make a masterpiece. Funny moments, good voiceovers and some occasionally amazing pieces of animation (the Hydra battle) cannot make up for a poor script, lackluster soundtrack, and unsympathetic characters.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 12, 2013 3:34 PM PST


Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (Widescreen Edition)
Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (Widescreen Edition)
DVD ~ Ewan McGregor
Offered by N P Sales
Price: $42.00
238 used & new from $3.26

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Begun, the Clone War has....", September 27, 2003
It seems as though there is no way to dispel negative atmosphere once it has been started. George Lucas's STAR WARS trilogy was well-loved by audiences (even though critics were split) but for some reason (and I can't figure it out), the first entry in the prequels, THE PHANTOM MENACE, earned a HUGE onslaught of critically divided posts just about everywhere in the world, from the press to the internet to fans in real life. While I do agree that the original trilogy is a tough act to follow, I wasn't as grossly let down by this movie as some were.

The same thing has happened to the second of the STAR WARS prequels, ATTACK OF THE CLONES, released in 2002. Many predicted that this movie would satisfy those who disliked Episode I with a vengeance, but alas, such was not the case. Once again, critics damned the movie for one reason or another, and the heated debate on whether Lucas "trashed the original trilogy" or not is still going on. I find it very sad that Lucas would still receive unfair critical attack, even after making a much darker, somber, and ominous movie in ATTACK OF THE CLONES. I'm guessing that such naysayers will continue to say nay to Lucas no matter what just like rabid fans of Anime would continue to slamdunk dubs... even if a lot of them have recently proven to be excellent.

This is not to say that ATTACK OF THE CLONES is a flawless film. It actually has its share of problems that THE PHANTOM MENACE didn't have. The dialogue, although nowhere nearly as bad as critics and some disgruntled fans say, lacks the spark of the original trilogy. My biggest gripe with the movie is that it moves at a leisurely pace, with lots of weak, unsatisfying sequences that last too long. Most of these scenes consist of a love subplot involving Anakin Skywalker and Amidala Padme. When not interacting with each other, Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman are fine in their respective roles. (Christensen's monologue about his slaughtering of not only Tusken Raiders but--horrors!--women and children is frightening.) But there is a sense of awkwardness when they contribute to scenes which involve schmaltzy lines and screen kisses. I'm guessing that they both felt uncomfortable doing these scenes, hence why the chemistry between them isn't as interesting as, say, Han and Leia's from the original trilogy.

Only when the movie is in action does ATTACK OF THE CLONES become worthwhile--there's a dizzying chase through Coruscant on floating cars, manuevering through a dangerous asteroid field near a planet, and a half-hour long showdown that showcases a lot of amazing CG work. Actually, what also make Episode II worth watching are the fantastic set designs. Every location in the movie, from the metropolis skyscrapers of Coruscant to the water planet where prototypes of Stormtroopers are being constructed literally bursts with imagination and eye candy.

Of the performers I liked Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan) the best; his acting is still a little shaky at times, but here he seems more comfortable with the role. Christopher Lee makes a surprise appearance as the new villian, Count Dooku, and once again he delivers first-rate evil with this character. And it's great to see C-3PO and R2-D2 up to their usual banter again (although sometimes some gags occur when not necessary). Ultimately, however, the film belongs to Jedi Master Yoda, played to perfection by Frank Oz. His appearances in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI featured him as a rubber puppet (and a delightful creation), but in this movie he really comes alive, thanks to first-rate CG effects. His mouth is perfectly in sync with every word he says, and the final showdown between him and Dooku is an absolute highlight.

While ATTACK OF THE CLONES is, in some ways, a lesser entry in the STAR WARS franchise, its assets outweigh its weaknesses; most of the questions I had from the first episode seem to be addressed a little bit in this chapter, and, frustratingly enough, provides more questions for Episode III. Flawless or not, this is still a STAR WARS movie, and for what it is, it's still worth a look.

Shooting the movie entirely in digital video also provides for an even better 2.35:1 visual transfer in this DVD set, in addition to speaker-thundering sound-quality and plentiful extras. Even if you hate the movie, this DVD release of ATTACK OF THE CLONES is, like its predecessor before it, a remarkable achievement.


Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (Widescreen Edition)
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (Widescreen Edition)
DVD ~ Ewan McGregor
Offered by MediaNett
Price: $64.30
78 used & new from $11.08

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The second coming? No. A great film? Absolutely., September 27, 2003
When word came out that George Lucas would be making the three prequels to his STAR WARS trilogy, word-of-mouth was roused, and so was the hype and advertising. The year 1999 saw the release of the first of these prequels, THE PHANTOM MENACE. But even though it was the biggest moneymaker of its year, the film has split STAR WARS fans and critics of every kind alike. While some critics and fans jumped out in favor, a majority of others attacked it savagely and condemned it as a disgrace to the franchise. Even to this day, THE PHANTOM MENACE is mentioned with growls of disgust and/or disappointment. Almost everywhere I go there are many who take turns slamdunking this movie and badmouthing George Lucas.

As a longtime STAR WARS fan, I do agree that the original trilogy is a tough act to follow, but I don't think Lucas deserves the negative backlash he got from this film (and its follow-up, ATTACK OF THE CLONES). Sure, it's not the Second Coming like many expected it to be, less lively than the other three films (in other words, more slowgoing), and heavily reliant upon state-of-the-art CG effects for much of its shots. And the characters are not as appealing as their predecessors, and, yes, I COULD have done without the digital flatulence gag. But do I think STAR WARS: EPISODE I--THE PHANTOM MENACE is everything the disgruntled folks say it is? Do I think George Lucas has gone greedy and decided to squeeze every last ounce of cash from the franchise?

No on both counts. The truth of the matter is that THE PHANTOM MENACE is a visually amazing movie. Every time I watch it, I am just in awe at the computer-generated setbacks, designs, and bizarre alien characters -- something that the previous STAR WARS movies could accomplish by miniatures, animatronics, and/or pyrotechnics. This was exactly the kind of technology Lucas would have wanted to use in order to make STAR WARS more than 25 years ago, but of course that was not possible. (This is why he made those "SPECIAL EDITIONS" of the films incorporating new footage and/or special effects shots.) Seeing this movie is almost like watching Lucas letting his imagination run wild; a lot of the sequences are both spectacular and invigorating, particularly the underwater journey through Naboo's core and the Pod Race on Tatooine. But my favorite part of the movie is the climactic lightsaber duel between Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi VS. the demonic looking Darth Maul. This battle is oustandingly staged and choreographed with impressive stunts and swordplay at its most swashbuckling.

Moving onto the plot analysis, yeah, I can understand why some would think the characters (including a younger Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and Queen Amidala) may not be what viewers best remember them as, but I'm not sure if Lucas was really INTENDING to make these movies in the same carefree spirit as, say, A NEW HOPE was (although there ARE some great one-liners, though spoken in a somewhat campy manner). Especially since the first three movies involve Anakin's descent into Darth Vader. This first movie features him as a young kid, played by Jack Lloyd. While his acting is a bit awkward in places, he didn't really detract me from the movie at all. He does display appropriate gloominess and has a somewhat distant look in his eyes, something that is ominous enough to remind us about what will happen later on. I loved Liam Neeson's performance as Qui-Gon Jinn, and Ewan McGregor is a great younger Obi-Wan. Natalie Portman is also a capable young actress doubling as Queen Amidala and her alter-ego Padme. Ian McDiarmid, who played the Emperor in RETURN OF THE JEDI, is bang-on yet again as Senator Palpatine. The rest of the characters are, shall we say, somewhat underdeveloped. However, this is best to be expected, since this is supposed to be the beginning of it all. This also could explain why there are some plot points left unresolved by the film's end (Who's Darth Sidious? Where did Darth Maul come from? What's the deal with those Trade Federation guys?). Most of these loose ends are tied up in EPISODE III--REVENGE OF THE SITH, which probably explains why the whole movie is difficult to evaluate individually.

Probably one of the biggest reasons why a lot of people hate this movie is the inclusion of the CG-created comic-relief Jar Jar Binks, played by Ahmed Best. Just about everywhere I go on the net do I see his name mentioned with death threats and utter annoyance. Speaking for myself, I actually LIKE Jar Jar Binks. I think he was an interesting new character for the movie, but there were times where I felt he was overused. I didn't have the same problem with his pompous ruler, Boss Nass; while he speaks with the same "offensive" dialect as Jar Jar, his deep voice, provided by Brian Blessed, more than made up for it.

But while many people have come up with arguments about hating Episode I with a passion (or even the other side who speaks in favor), it has been continually hard for me to do so. True, it's not perfect, and yes, there are some scenes I would have cut out, but I still have found no legitimate reason whatsoever to dislike this movie. It's still STAR WARS, after all. And even though I don't think THE PHANTOM MENACE is on the same level as the original trilogy, I think STAR WARS at its least is "OK" and, after seeing REVENGE OF THE SITH, I now see what place it has in the saga--this is the beginning of a six-part saga which will nonetheless be a bumpy ride. And as it progresses, one will find spectacles worth revisiting as well as occasional dead space. But it's a ride which ultimately has its rewards.

As the first STAR WARS movie to be released to DVD, THE PHANTOM MENACE is, on a technical and visceral level, a knockout. The 2.35:1 video presentation is pristine and gorgeous, the audio rocks through the speakers, and there is a whole slew of extras (from deleted scenes to behind-the-scenes featurettes) to please film buffs and collectors alike. I look forward to seeing future Lucasfilm productions receive a similarly fabulous treatment.


The Wonderful World of Puss 'N Boots [VHS]
The Wonderful World of Puss 'N Boots [VHS]
VHS
5 used & new from $9.98

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dated, but PURR-fectly entertaining!, September 24, 2003
If THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF PUSS 'N BOOTS was theatrically released in today's era, it probably wouldn't hold a candle to any of America's other animated features and disappear without a trace. But this is a Japanese Anime, and, in its native land, it was a huge box office success. Titled as "Nagagutsu o Haita Neko", the production was released in 1969, and the title character, Puss 'N Boots himself, named Perro (or Perrault), became a mascot character for the animation studio, Toei. An interesting fact about this film is that Anime pioneer Hayao Miyazaki is credited as one of the animators -- in fact, he was responsible for the key animation of the climactic, hang-on-to-the-edge-of-your-seat finale. Fans of Miyazaki's work will notice how similar it is to the climax of THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO.
Compared to today's standards, the animation is poor, but at the same time interesting to look at. The entire story is expanded, altered, and spiced up similar to a Disney treatment of a classic fairy tale, but its artistic style is somewhere between a Hanna-Barbera or a Warner Bros. cartoon. This almost sounds like a drawback, but it provides for some silly, funny, and occasionally slapstick moments. It also feels perfect for this kind of movie, even if at times it screams Disney. (Not that I think of it as a bad thing; I'm rather fond of Disney movies even to this day. ^_^)
Don't expect a faithful retelling of the classic fairy tale PUSS 'N BOOTS -- this adaptation adds -- and sometimes embellishes -- a lot of cute, funny elements which make it a lot of fun. The hero, Perro, a cat musketeer pursued by three chief-of-police felines (he committed the ultimate "crime" of saving a mouse's life), befriends a young miller, Pierre; soon the two are off to seek their fortune. With clever scheming (and a lot of tall "tail"-telling) the cat manages to help Pierre pose as the Prince of Carabas in order to woo the lovely Princess Rosa. But the wicked ogre, Lucifer, also wants Rosa, and kidnaps her on the night of the full moon. Perro and Pierre set off to Lucifer's creepy, macabre castle to save her and outsmart her captor. Given that this is a fairy-tale, the ending is very predictable -- yet watching it unfold is only half the fun. Instead of just simply killing Lucifer off by having Perro pull the "trick him into changing into something edible" trick, the script (written by Hisashi Inoue and Morihisa Yamamoto) extends the climax into a series of chases, slapstick gags, and, as mentioned, a final confrontation scene which is breathtaking to watch, even if the artwork is dated. (Incidentally, director Kimio Yabuki was also responsible for another fairy-tale Anime, the little-known SWAN LAKE.)
I understand that there are Disney haters in the world, and will probably look for things to complain about this loose retelling; particularly the comic mice sidekicks and four incidental musical numbers. But there are others (like me) who won't mind at all -- especially if they're fans of Disney and their adaptations of fairy tales. The mice provide a lot of humor, and, although the lyrics in the English version sound awkward and uninspired, the songs never feel intrusive and are fun to bounce to. (The only exception is Princess Rosa's number, which is as slow and as lovely [but not sappy] as any romantic ballad.)
THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF PUSS 'N BOOTS was given a limited U.S. release to the Saturday-morning kids' market, along with other productions Toei produced, including JACK AND THE WITCH and TREASURE ISLAND. The English dubbing was produced by Titan Productions, Inc., with direction by Fred Ladd. Available from HI-TOPS VIDEO (where I first saw the movie) as well as MEDIA VIDEO and VESTRON VIDEO, the voice acting is very lively, but there are problems. For one thing, the voices, with the exception of Princess Rosa, all sound like they're being acted by one actor. (And Perro sounds, oddly, like Al Jolson.) In other words, it's not very high quality. The words don't always fit the mouth movements well, and some lines occasionally come off as stilted and a little too fast. Such flaws are probably best to be expected, since this is an early dub -- recent English track productions have far outclassed past efforts. Still, considering that this is probably the only dub of the film available in English (and that the Japanese language track has not been around in the U.S.), it's not so bad -- unless you count the occasionally sloppy lyrics in the songs and Perro's sometimes grating voice.
Unfortunately, the movie may be hard to find -- since its 1988 issue, the video has fallen badly out of print and I have heard no news of any new U.S. company planning to give it a second release. Let's hope it does happen someday. THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF PUSS 'N BOOTS may be a dated Anime when compared to more recent efforts (and U.S. folks probably may consider it too "cartoony" for their tastes). Nevertheless, it is 80 minutes of fun, laughs, and action, and a must-see for longtime history buffs, especially if they're interested in seeing traces of Miyazaki's earlier years as an animator before he became a big name. It is a great "cat's meow", indeed.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 30, 2007 1:05 PM PDT


Swan Lake [VHS]
Swan Lake [VHS]
VHS
7 used & new from $31.90

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good adaptation with some flaws., September 22, 2003
This review is from: Swan Lake [VHS] (VHS Tape)
More than 125 years ago, composer Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky premiered his first ballet production, SWAN LAKE. The first performance was a disaster, but since then, the ballet has become one of the most popular of all time. Many versions of the classic story have been filmed, and there are two animated adaptations in existence. The first is best known as THE SWAN PRINCESS, a 1994 animated feature from ex-Disney animator Richard Rich which flopped at the box office but sold well on video. But it did not employ the music of Tchaikovsky and was a more "Disneyfied" production at best. (It was a good film, however.) The second is a rather obscure, but rich and gorgeously drawn Anime production from Toei which won an award at the 1981 Moscow Film Festival. Since this movie is dark and somber, despite the presence of two comic squirrels (shy, bashful Hans and arrogant, sometimes prissy Margarita), it uses Tchaikovsky's melancholy yet masterful score. This is arguably the picture's biggest asset, as the music is ultimately the heart and soul behind the entire ballet.

Everyone knows the story of SWAN LAKE: Princess Odette has been transformed into a swan, and can only resume her human form at night. One day, young Prince Seigfried meets and falls in love with her. He invites Odette to come to the ball at his castle so that he can choose her as his bride. But Odette's evil captor, the wizard Rothbart, wants the girl for himself, and so he sends his daughter, Odile, to impersonate Odette at the ball. Naive and trusting to a fault, Seigfried falls for it when Odile shows up at the ball - until he discovers, too late, that he has been deceived. He engages Rothbart in a duel and, in doing so, proves his love for Odette, breaking the evil curse.

Script writer Hirokazu Fuse expands the tale and provides some unique twists in this adaptation. As mentioned above, the story is seen through the eyes of the two squirrels, who bicker over their courtship, yet they do anything in their will to bring the lovers together, just like a comic duo would do. There are also several scenes involving Rothbart and Odile that, in a somewhat dark way, are appealing. Rothbart himself is not so scary, but rather comes across like an awkward schoolboy when he's dealing with Odette (a huge contrast to Seigfried's more mature approach). Yet his evil shines through whenever we see him cast spells, and, at the end, he even becomes murderous. Odile, by contrast, is cunning, and very seductive, perhaps even more sinister than her father, and shows a lot more brains than he does (it is SHE who comes up with the idea to fool Seigfried!). There is also a spine-tingling climax bursting with conflict and malice, leaving one with goosebumps. As far as the animation is concerned, the cel count varies in quality (like most Anime), and its age shows. But the colors, considering that this is a 1981 production, are lovely to look at, from the sunlight's reflection on the lake to the grotesque, macabre designs of Rothbart's castle. This kind of animation style may be old, but for animation buffs, SWAN LAKE displays some incredible work. (Indeed, it is hard to believe that 2,500 cels were stolen during the production period.)

It should be noted that there are two different English versions available. The dub on the HI-TOPS Video and the MEDIA HOME video release is absolutely DREADFUL, with uninspired to emotionless vocal performances: the squirrels' voices (Gerri Sorrells and Nancy Culluci) are shrill and disappointingly lifeless considering they're supposed to be comic characters. Nancy Link and Steve Knode are no more compelling as Odette and Seigfried; both sound bored (Knode sounds especially off). Probably the only voices that come close to decent are Joseph Zucatti's Rothbart and Patricia Kobayashi's Odile (who cackles a lot more than her father, strangely enough), but even then they falter on select scenes. In addition, this dub has some of the sloppiest lip-synching I've ever seen--more than half of the lines are off by about half of a second! The only benefit about this dub is that it adheres close to the Japanese script, but the flow of the dialogue is very choppy and unnatural sounding. Of course since it's an early dub, one shouldn't expect too much, but even the most loyal of dub fans (and the very young, no doubt) are likely to be appalled by the cringeworthy results.

The only other dub I know of was produced some time ago by Samuel Goldwyn and features, interestingly, some high-profile voice talent. (Apparently Studio Ghibli's movies aren't the only Anime that get high profile treatment.) Christopher Atkins (THE BLUE LAGOON) plays Seigfried (the emotional range of talent he displays in this role showed me that I underestimated him as an actor), Pam Dawber (MORK & MINDY) voices the lonely and fragile Odette, Kay Lenz (BREEZY) is an alternatingly bitchy and seductive Odile, and David Hemmings (THE WILD LITTLE BUNCH) hams it up as the villainous Rothbart. Even all the other characters are appropriately voiced. The ADR script in this dub isn't slavishly close, but it's better written and less bland-sounding than the literal translation. Not only that, but the synchronization is better--for the most part; some lines are a little behind, but they're minor compared to the mistiming on the first dub. It aired on television a few times stateside, but I have not found any information on whether it was released to video or not.

Despite showing its age, it feels like something of a shame that this Japanese Anime of SWAN LAKE never got the recognition it deserves. Gorgeously drawn, well scripted, and, of course, with Tchaikovsky's music underscoring every mood, this is a lost gem which deserves a better chance. Hopefully someday one U.S. Anime company will market this title to a lasting audience.


Nadia The Secret of Blue Water - The Motion Picture
Nadia The Secret of Blue Water - The Motion Picture
DVD ~ Artist Not Provided
2 used & new from $13.48

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A few moments, but overall unnecessary and disappointing feature for a fine series., September 19, 2003
The ending of NADIA--THE SECRET OF BLUE WATER provided a sense of closure to the story, and that is one of the many problems with this theatrical sequel: there is no reason for it to exist. The consensus from many is that NADIA--THE MOTION PICTURE is actually worse than the awful island/Africa episodes combined. The movie isn't quite that bad, but this should not imply that it's of the same caliber as the series--on the contrary. There are a lot of bizarre inconsistencies in the plot, which basically feels like a hastily cobbled Saturday morning cartoon episode, minus much of the depth and richness that made NADIA as a series so appealing. The whole thing tries to be a funny, fast-paced sci-fi mystery adventure, and there are some laughs to be had--but it's hilarious for all the wrong reasons. The action sequences, in particular, are implausibly staged (one involves Jean and Nadia fighting bad-guys--he removes a grenade from his pocket... and destroys a group of enemies in one shot, yet he and Nadia escape unharmed!). Even one-liners from the Grandis gang runs dry in places.

Regrettably, the "cartoonish" aura is made even more apparent by the animation. "Sub-par" doesn't even come close to describing how sloppy and unattractive it is. Compared to even the Lincoln and floating island episodes (which were visually awful in comparison to the better eps), it simply looks dreadful. The recycled footage that makes up the first thirty minutes (ironically the best part of the movie, except it's all poorly edited and sequenced in a way that will confuse all but those who are familiar with the series) only reinforces the dubious quality of the movie as a whole. Actually, wasting the first thirty minutes with footage is a major mistake on the filmmakers' part: it provides little to no time for whatever story there is to fully develop.

Worse still, the new characters come across as cliche, cardboard cutouts. The villain of the piece in particular, Dr. Giegar, a sort of mad scientist with a silly-looking hairdo, is laughable--it is suggested early on that he is worse than Gargoyle, but he turns out to be just the opposite. He's nowhere nearly as frightening or fully-realized. The central new character to the show is Fuzzy, a blonde (and not very talkative) girl who serves to reunite Jean and Nadia after two years of living apart, and unfortunately, she comes across as the dullest in the show. Probably the only character to show any depth is her distant father, Dr. Whola, the sort of gruff man who at first rejects his daughter for being a carbon copy of the real thing who was killed (oh, surprise), only to realize his error. But even then, there is something about him that feels very forgettable.

Remember how most of the island episodes (and the Africa ones) seemed to press reset on most of the main characters and have them behave in over-exaggerated ways? Well, this movie is guilty of doing the same--the biggest problem I have is why Grandis and her gang would go back to a life of crime... *and* even attack Jean! Didn't they already establish a close relationship with the leads? It's also baffling that the movie starts out with Jean and Nadia separated. The pair had already confessed their feelings for each other by the end of the series, so why is Nadia trying to be an independent reporter in London? And how in the world did Jean end up with an annoying parrot as a pet? Well, at least when they become paired up, their relationship at least isn't as grotesquely warped as in the worst episodes, but it still feels hokey and weird. It's even more surprising that Marie, King, Electra, and even Ayerton were written out of all this. (There is a disclaimer that this happens before the events of the epilogue, but come on now!)

One thing that is fairly well done about the movie is the relationship between Nadia, Jean, and Fuzzy--not something I was expecting to say. Unlike the Africa village episodes, which jammed in a useless and mean-spirited love triangle, this one is not as annoying--there is no issue about Fuzzy's age and Jean remains consistent. In fact, there are two very cute romantic interludes between Jean and Nadia which at least provide some charm (one on a boat, and at the end). And while the resolution of the triangle regarding Fuzzy did feel very much like a cop-out and lacked emotion, it at least wraps out inoffensively (albeit predictably).

Believe it or not, the other saving grace about the movie is the dub, provided by ADV's Monster Island studios. NADIA has always been one of my favorite dubs to listen to, and it's a treat to hear the principal cast reprise their roles. Rather amusingly, the script even works in a joke about Jean's French accent! (And while it's still pretty shaky in this movie, I can't imagine Jean without it.) The new characters are fairly well voiced too, particularly Eric Henshaw as Dr. Whola; they do their best with their cardboard cut characters and provide consistent energy and liveliness.

All in all, however, I will not be visiting NADIA--THE MOTION PICTURE again any time soon. Even though it wasn't as hideous as most reviews were making it out to be (it's definitely better than the Africa episodes, but inevitably worse than both island sequences combined), I do believe that its poor reputation is well-deserved. Wasting 30 minutes of recycled footage, as mentioned, was a bad idea, and it's even more disappointing that there wasn't much more thought put into the script. The original creative staff also had nothing to do with this movie; it was simply made just to cash-in on the show. As a matter of fact, you can just skip it and you won't miss much at all.


My Neighbor Totoro
My Neighbor Totoro
DVD ~ Hitoshi Takagi
4 used & new from $18.42

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvelous Miyazaki masterpiece (regardless of whatever language it's watched in)., September 16, 2003
This review is from: My Neighbor Totoro (DVD)
What more can be said about MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO? Get this movie. Immediately. Without a doubt one of the best animated features ever made, Japan or otherwise, TOTORO is an outstanding original creation from Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. It's about two sisters -- Satsuki and spunky little Mei -- moving with their somewhat scatterbrained but loving father to a new home in the Japanese countryside. But the place isn't just deserted; wonders galore lie within their household. Tiny, fuzzy black balls of soot ("Soot Gremlins") scatter every nook and cranny of the walls, frightened away only by laughter. A tall, luscious camphor tree towers above the other trees in the back yard. And, lastly, the Totoros themselves, absolutely adorable little creatures who look like a cross between a raccoon, rabbit, owl, and guinea pig (a personal bias here, since I used to own one who reminds me so much of the Totoros here), live in this very forest, carrying acorns, making huge trees grow at night, and playing ocarinas on the branches of the trees. There is even one really BIG Totoro who sleeps under the tree, so cuddlesome and gentle that you'll swear that he's the equivalent of your pet. Of course, he doesn't just allow Mei to snuggle on his chest. He lets out thunderous roars, shake the ground by jumping with full force, grins as wide as a Cheshire cat (albeit with warmth and generosity), helps others when they're in trouble, and gives acorns wrapped in bamboo leaves in return for gifts.

The story isn't all hearts and flowers, however. An emotionally charged subplot involving the sisters' ailing mother (shades of Miyazaki's personal life here) gives TOTORO a dramatic edge. This is particularly evident in the third act, when the girls receive a distressing telegram about their mother. Both Satsuki and Mei are extremely traumatized by this as any real child would be if such a situation occurred in their lifetime. What follows is a tearjerking sequence that builds to a truly happy ending. This mixture of real-life situations, emotions, and magical discoveries found in your nearest back yard make TOTORO feel authentic (even with its fantasy elements). One cannot help but find this quality in any of Miyazaki's films, this one included.

MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO was not a box office success in either Japan or America, but the film has won over millions of children around the world as well as animation buffs for its gorgeous animation style; the backgrounds are lavishly detailed and imagination is galore in much of the sequences. (It was KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE that would catapult Miyazaki's animation company, Studio Ghibli, into box office success status.)

The movie was originally dubbed into English by Carl Macek and his infamous company, Streamline Pictures in 1993. Believe it or not, this was one of the "best" dubs they've ever produced. As Disney has acquired the rights for Ghibli's movies, though, it was inevitable that they would produce their own version. This has infuriated many, but as someone who fell in love with TOTORO with the Mecak version, I have to say that this new Disney production is entertaining in its own right. The script is a fresh new translation from the original Japanese (clarifying the origin of Totoro's name), and remains faithful to the meaning of Miyazaki's screenplay, despite a few line changes here and there (nothing major, though).

At first, I was a little worried about hearing Dakota and Elle Fanning as Satsuki and Mei, but both ended up captivating me from the start; personally, I think it was great for Disney to cast two actual sisters to play the young girls--it helps their chemistry come alive. The other actors, including a warm, understated Tim Daly, and delightful Lea Salonga provide similarly top quality work. My favorite performances? Pat Carroll, displaying maternal charm and whimsy as Granny (not sounding anything like her most-famous role, Ursula from THE LITTLE MERMAID), and Frank Welker, who does outstanding vocal foley for both Totoro and the Cat Bus.

The OP and ED songs retain the same lyrics, but are sung by someone else (Sonya Isaacs), which may please some and annoy others. (The new OP is a little bit off-color at times; the ED is fairly well handled.) I'm sure that there will be many who will draw comparisons between the two dubs to the very bitter end, but I think it's great to have more than one adaptation of a beloved story, especially when done by folks who obviously love Miyazaki's works.

As far as the long awaited 2-DVD set from Disney goes, the widescreen visual transfer is absolutely gorgeous--Miyazaki's visuals really shine with pristine clarity on the screen, and the Japanese language track features literal subtitles, too. The extras are the same-old voice talent featurette, storyboards, and trailer we saw on most of the other Disney-Ghibli DVDs; sparse, to say the least, but better than nothing.

Folks who want the old dub will obviously flock to the FOX pan & scan DVD, but personally, I'd suggest getting both the FOX and Disney releases--the former for nostalgia, the latter for a more professional sounding upgrade. Either way, however, MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO is far from just another kid's story. With a little bit of luck, grown-ups (and those who consider themselves too "sophisticated" for cartoons) will enjoy it too.
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His and Her Circumstances (Vol. 5)
His and Her Circumstances (Vol. 5)
DVD ~ Atsuko Enomoto
Offered by MollyBeagleMedia
Price: $49.99
7 used & new from $5.70

48 of 49 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Still as fun as always, but ends(stops?) much too soon., September 12, 2003
Every once in a while comes something so addicting that the last thing you would want is for it to come to an end, or abruptly stop. Even in the Anime community, you find yourself wishing that a series you love would go on, only to be disappointed that it finishes rather too soon, or with more questions than answers. Sadly, this is all too true of the final entry of HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES.
The first four volumes were lots of fun and a delight to watch, so what could possibly be wrong with Volume 5? Is it that the episodes are terrible? Can it be that the characters are no longer appealing? The answer to both of these questions are no. The content is as enjoyable as ever, and the characters no less appealing, from their activities, interactions, conflicts, and resolutions. The problem here is with the show's conclusion, or therefore lack of it. It starts out entertainingly: the first two episodes continue Yukino's attempts to get her friends' school play on in time for the culture festival while trying to reassure a now lonesome Arima that she cares no matter what. At the same time, Asaba continues to flirt with the ladies, irritate Arima and Yukino, and surprisingly lends a hand with the play (in addition to Mr. Kawashima). Furthermore, Takefumi Tonami's longtime rivalry with Tsubaki Sakura climaxes when he tries to hurt her for all the cruel things she's done to him, only to realize that hatred may not have been what he felt for her after all. The storylines do not feel intrusive here, but work out wonderfully (a problem that the filler episodes of NADIA suffered from, when they jammed a lot of needless garbage into a great story and almost sank it).
The real problems don't start until about three-quarters of the way through the third episode, where the show turns from a surreal dream Yukino has about helping Arima rid himself of his inner demons to a rerun of the opening theme song and a recap of all that happened from first Yukino's sisters, Mr. Kawashima, and finally, Yukino's troop of friends (including Shibahime, who complains about not having enough lines). This is so sudden and redundant that it's enough to make one wonder what the heck happened to the show where there were other points to resolve.
Matters do not improve with the next two episodes; the fourth one tells a pointless side story about a mysterious stalker tracking Yukino's sisters, while the last one is, whoa, a complete mess. No longer is the action animated, but now in the style of a comic book, with two offscreen narrators doing commentary. There's very little that is resolved here, and worse, we never get to see the play that Yukino and her friends were working hard on putting on! In other words, it just stops instead of really finishing. "The script's fine just the way it is," says one of Yukino's friends. That would have been a more accurate thing to say if the show had a more conclusive ending!
It seems that animation studio Gainax -- or in this case, director Hideaki Anno -- displays a lot of promise when it comes to animated shows but has a share of problems when it comes to wrapping it up. NADIA started -- and finished -- wonderfully, but was plagued by a number of filler episodes which should never have been written. I realized then, that it wasn't Gainax's fault; the studio executives were trying to squeeze every last ounce of cash from the show and forced them into writing stuff that was irrelevant to the original plot (written by Hayao Miyazaki). EVANGELION, on the other hand, got off to a decent beginning and seemed to show steady progress until the show dissolved into a mind-bending turmoil of unanswerable questions -- the folks didn't even know HOW they wanted to end the show, which resulted with two controversial final episodes and a theatrical attempt to recreate them (which was brilliant but flawed), causing endless confusion and still more heated debates about determining what the heck was going on. Sadly, this also applies to HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES; the first four volumes were fun, lighthearted, but also comprehensible. The last volume has its moments but, toward the end, turns into yet another case of nobody knowing where they wanted to take the story, much less finish it.
Too bad, because HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES has a LOT of enjoyable things to be plagued by even one such glaring fault. That it falls into the same status of "flawed, but worth a look" status of Gainax's other two shows is a letdown since the show stayed on its plateau much longer than its predecessors.
Not that there's nothing to recommend this volume, however. It's still fun to watch Yukino and her friends goofing off, working together, and hanging out, and the extras provided on the DVD -- which includes English Voice Actress outtakes and outrageously funny Phone Messages from the various characters (including one where Yukino tries to silence her sisters as she records her voice message) -- warrant its purchase.
As with Gainax's other shows, HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES is recommended for its assets but not without its flaws, most notably its lack of providing a clear, satisfying finish for viewers or fans.


His and Her Circumstances (Vol. 4)
His and Her Circumstances (Vol. 4)
DVD ~ Atsuko Enomoto
7 used & new from $5.58

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Characters old and new, more animation twists, more fun., September 12, 2003
So what happens in the latest volume of HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES? Well, Yukino is in for a happy surprise when Arima returns from the Nationals, however, she has more than a share of trouble trying to tell him that she loves him. All of a sudden, she starts acting strangely, and inadvertently hurts Arima's feelings by starting to distance herself again. Fortunately, she apologizes and confesses her feelings. What then? The next episode is even better -- we get to see glimpses of Arima's childhood. He is bullied by kids and frowned upon by many family relatives (because they care more about their image and social status than their character), but what's touching is that his parents (or, if you will, his aunt and uncle) stand up for him. This is an interesting thing to come from an animation company who produced a mecha sci-fi series where one nasty lead character is intent on putting anyone down in favor of her own pride. The turning point is where Arima stresses that "I want to make love to you".
Ah, such a typical adolescent ambition. But at the same time, it presents a sequence of events which show how much Arima and Yukino have bonded throughout the series. It's endearing to see that Yukino has matured from her old, contemptuous ways, into something more sociable. Arima, on the other hand, seems to have more than a share of fears. He doesn't want to be rejected because, as mentioned, he is hated by his family members but is loved by those who truly care about him. That both Arima and Yukino are able to recognize each other's flaws, strengths, and desire for perfections is a quality that feels so real, unlike NADIA, where one sweet young boy has to tame an imperfect girl through his love, or EVANGELION, which focuses more on alienation than friendship. It's elements such as this which has made HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES such a delightful show to watch.
Of course, this show is as multifaceted as its characters are, as proven in the third episode. Here, the artwork (production?) puts on a new look. Instead of traditional cel animation, the characters, backgrounds, and special effects all adopt a "paper cutout" style which is so unusual for a series displaying very real situations in school, but this is all the more unique for HIS AND HERS. It's howlingly funny, too; employing a staff member's head for a bully student from Class F and resulting in a parody of a battle from EVANGELION involving Yukino is an absolute knockout. There are also a lot of gags, jokes, sequences, and all other sorts of stuff that will just have one on the floor.
Other real situations are featured in the later episodes. Most particular is the arrival of a new character, Takefumi Tonami, who knew both Arima and Tsubaki Sakura (one of Miyazawa's friends) from childhood. He admires Arima but has somewhat vengeful eyes on Tsubaki. No wonder: he was subject to bullying in childhood, and she contributed a lot to his pain. (Something this reviewer can identify with because he used to be bullied in school, too.) His desire for vengeance is a quality that Yukino somewhat admires, which starts up a new friendship (after a hilarious argument the two get into), but starts to make Arima feel left out. Fortunately, Miyazawa understands how Arima feels and, upon sensing how lonely he feels, does everything she can to reassure him that she loves him dearly. This layout is very similar to Jean's friendship with Electra in NADIA: THE SECRET OF BLUE WATER, in where the former still does his best to show Nadia that he cares about her regardless yet was never jealous of anyone to understand why she was acting so crazy.
The introduction of Tonami also felt less intrusive and uncalled for unlike the disastrous African episodes in NADIA, where Nadia tries to use a stranger for her own purposes while being mercilessly cruel to Jean. This sequence absolutely did not suit the story (can you imagine Nadia getting hearts in her eyes when she's distrustful of others?) and SHOULD have been cut. The same cannot be said of Tonami, however, because, although he is introduced much later on, never once does the show fall apart into character stupidities. In other words, we still feel like we're watching the same show, and not filler stuff forced by studio executives (which was the problem with the African sequence).
That aside, the volume pulls out more laughs to keep one entertained, from the scenes of Asaba and Yukino in classroom meetings, Asaba's somewhat strange attraction to Arima ("No! Don't be nice to other boys!"), and lastly, to Yukino and Maho's invitation by Aya Sawada to participate in a school play. Both try to talk themselves out of it, which leads to a hilarious chase sequence and Yukino realizing that she *could* probably try out. After all, doesn't she have a gift for fooling people?
In short, this fourth volume is better than the third one, offering just the right mixture of serious moments and lighthearted laughs. What a shame it is, however, that this is the penultimate volume, for this is a show that I wish wouldn't end so soon. Sadly, though, no one has control over that.
One thing I forgot to mention is that in the dub, Ed Paul delivers as Tonami, and why the heck is there no music during the previews for the next episodes?


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