Tuesday, April 4, 2006

THE ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN

I was thrilled to discover that MGM has recently unearthed and released on DVD one of my favorite animated films, Will Vinton's little-seen THE ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN (1984). Produced entirely in Vinton's patented "Claymation" process, it's a unique film that deserves to be better known.

While Vinton's studio produced a lot of commercials in the Eighties – the California Raisins spots being the best remembered – he really wanted to prove himself with a feature. The result was this odd, dark slice of Americana that visually interprets some of the famed author's writings with appropriately irreverent humor and surprising melancholy. The frame upon which these adaptations are hung is amusing and oddly morbid. The movie begins as Mark Twain (voiced by veteran character actor James Whitmore) is about to launch his fabulous airship, upon which he intends to meet Haley's Comet and his own death. Three of his most famous characters – Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Becky Thatcher – stow away on the craft, and soon find themselves unwilling participants in the old man's suicide mission.

The animation is amazing, and entirely done in clay. While I admire Aardman Studios' (WALLACE & GROMMIT, CHICKEN RUN) recent work, even they don't build every single miniature set out of plasticine. Vinton's crew does, and the results are spectacular. The characters are astoundingly expressive, and the malleable nature of the medium allows the animators to create some amazing effects.

MGM has slipped this one out onto DVD with no fanfare and little effort. Fortunately, they did issue it in its correct, 1.85:1 widescreen ratio, with anamorphic enhancement, which considering that they consider it a kid's film, is a pleasant surprise. There are no extras whatsoever, but at least it looks good.

Although it is rated G and marketed as a children's movie, I suspect that adults will get more out of it. For anyone interested in quality animation, I highly recommend the film, despite the bare bones presentation.

BUY: The Adventures of Mark Twain