Adventures of Mark Twain

Thursday, 22 December 2011 07:03

This adventurous, feature-length stop-motion animation showcases famous American author Mark Twain and some of his best-loved characters including Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Becky Thatcher. Together they sneak onboard Twain’s wondrous, steampunk airship bound for a rendezvous with Halley’s Comet, along the way recounting some amazing tales extracted from his books.

Will Vinton, the producer and director of the movie, has a rich heritage in clay and later CGI animation, including the classic California Raisins advert that became a TV series, as well as The PJs, M&Ms commercials and Michael Jackson’s “Moonwalker”. “Mark Twain” sits at the heart of his body of work, and should appeal to both children and adults for reasons I will outline below.

The Adventures of Mark Twain on Blu-ray and DVDThe visual design is quite remarkable, both in terms of the lavish sets, the painted backdrops and the individual characters themselves. Each frame is crammed with detail and life, with plenty going on in the background as well as the foreground. Real and imaginary creatures erupt from the ground and seamlessly morph from one shape to another.

The limb animation of Mark, Tom and co is impressive but the realism of the facial movement is what struck me most. Characters mouths lip-sync the dialogue perfectly, and their faces are very expressive, conveying a wide range of emotions.

The voice acting is notable, lending extra weight and personality to the animated figures. James Whitmore (“The Shawshank Redemption”, 1968’s “Planet of the Apes”) appears to be the only famous name in the cast but the others do an equally good job.

Beyond the main story of the crew’s voyage to the comet, the mini-tales include the story of Adam and Eve, a rigged frog race that goes awry and a mildly disturbing encounter with Satan. The central plot occasionally feels like it is wearing a little thin but for the most part everything moves along swiftly and we are constantly presented with new sights to keep us entertained.

Adults and older children will find added depth in the underlying philosophy of the stories and the moralistic outcomes of each chapter. There are definite similarities to Disney’s “Up”; both films feature an old man reaching the end of his life and embarking on one last adventure with some stowaways via an air-powered craft.

Special features included in this ‘Deluxe 25th Anniversary Edition’ include:

  • Commentary and interviews by Producer/Director Will Vinton and members of the cast and crew
  • “The History of Claymation” - a 25 minute doc, the origins of stop-motion, Claymation and 3D animation
  • “The Amazing World of Claymation” - Tour of the popular exhibit hosted by Will Vinton
  • Behind the Scenes Video Clips and video news stories from Mark Twain’s initial release
  • “The Art of Mark Twain” - a gallery of original concept art of characters and sets in pencil and paint
  • Soundtrack Gallery
  • Trailer

Both the Claymation featurette and the behind the scenes clips are fascinating, giving us a real insight into the advances made and painstaking toil involved in the animated world of stop-motion. Will Vinton has several decades of experience and clearing must be amongst the most patient men on the planet! The soundtrack extra is also a nice bonus, allowing the viewer to listen to each piece of music with a key image from each scene to help put it in context. The guitar and banjo tunes evoke memories of the BBC version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, not at all inappropriately for this is one whacky adventure.

“The Adventures of Mark Twain” (1986) is out now on DVD (reviewed) and Blu-ray, courtesy of Eureka Entertainment. The main feature has a running time of 86 minutes approx, carries a ‘PG’ certificate and retails for £15.99 on DVD, £17.99 on Blu-ray, or less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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