What has happened to hand drawn animation recently? The House of Mouse closes down its Orlando operation, hoping to cash in on a little extra Pixar payday before said digital domain hooks up with another happy distribution camper. Japanese anime is becoming so mainstream and accepted that you half expect the Animaniacs to return in some manner of hentai inspired title. Thanks to the Veggietales, such Bible stalwarts as Jonah and Noah have Christian based cartoons using a more IBM means of getting their G.O.D. point across. And even Saturday morning has gone gigabit, hoping such halfhearted motherboarding will get the wee ones worked up over the standard sugar-based product placement all over again. So when some independent company steps up to the podium and announces they are going to reinvigorate the classic style of cell animation, there should be loud cheers from fans and purists. The last time this happened, Don Bluth came out from under Disney's dirty derivativeness and made magical movies like The Secret of NIMH and An American Tail. But perhaps, for the moment, one should start corralling in those warm and fuzzy accolades. Not every independent cartoon deserves a pat on the back. Sometimes, a well=placed knife is too nice. After looking at the abysmal, awful, atrocious, anarchic (wait, I'm still on the "a"s) animated abomination Marco Polo: Return to Xanadu you'll understand why hand formed films are fading into the hard drive. Fetuses coloring outside the lines and shifting their picture books around in utero would make a more engaging animated movie than what is offered here.
Apparently, long ago when the Earth was green and pasta was merely a vision in a hungry Sicilian's eye, Marco Polo and Kubla Khan were lovers. Well, if not sexually warm for each other's form, they sure seemed extremely congenial. Upon leaving his Asian fun buddy to return to Italy, Marco receives a smart piece of jewelry (and we do mean piece: Khan breaks the dang thing in half) that is supposed to link him, for all eternity, with his Chinese chum. Jump ahead a few generations and Marco Polo the 26th is sailing the high seas, hoping to find his l0ng lost parents (who wisely left the loser before the weaning process could begin). Upon returning home, Marco's grandapa (who is apparently not too worked up over his son/daughter being MIA) tells the land-lubing lad about the notched necklace and the evil magician, Foo-Ling (how dead clever) who wants it. Well, no sooner has the elderly entity spilled the plot pintos then a couple of Foo's henchmen, Wong Wei and Hong Fat are stumbling over themselves to try and trap the tool. Marco makes for the mast of his own personal pleasure craft and soon it's a trip around the world to meet ancillary animated characters that have nothing whatsoever to do with the Polo/Khan connection. There is Babu, who makes Apu Nahasapeemapetilon look like Mahatma Gandhi and encapsulates every stereotype about Eastern shaman in his diapered form. Reginald the Seagull is a direct swipe from The Little Mermaid without Buddy Hackett's desire to tell dick jokes. And something called The Delicate Dinosaur proves that homosexuality not only crosses gender and race lines, but fictional barriers as well.
Marco and his mongoloid minions end up in Olivia Newton John's favorite motion picture nightclub where the pre-pubescent Princess Ming Yu is being held captive. That pedophile's delight, Foo-Ling (can't get enough of that name) wants to marry the underage wench to secure his place on the throne of Zany doo-doo. But Marco keeps interfering with his plans and so there has to be a showdown, a face off and an up chuck between the two titans. They travel backwards and forwards in time, from pirate ships to the Prehistoric period. Eventually, a few dozen false endings occur and evil is excised from the pointless plot lines. Pieces of jewelry are reunited and everyone lives sappily ever after. Ugh.
You know, when you see unruly children in a shopping center or a rehab clinic, the natural thought that runs through your mind is that a parent/guardian or interested bystander needs to step in and teach those cranky kids a lesson. After all, without punishment, a juvenile will grow up disrespectful, violent and uneducate....um, wait. Anyway, with spanking, rolled up newspapers and hot pokers a cultural no-no, the misbehaved brattling needs a form of reprimand that will really send a scared straight message to the midbrain. Well, you better get your hands on a copy of Marco Polo: Return to Xanadu before the Geneva Convention, Amnesty International and S.A.D.D. find out how deadly and disciplinary it actually is. One viewing and even the most miscreant soccer monkey will coalesce into a controllable vapor of lobotomized luncheon meat. Everything wrong with animation as an art form and in general is inherent in this regurgitated turd of a tyke's tale. The only good thing that can be said about this politically incorrect, borderline offensive festival of misguided manual scribbling is that Tooniversal Company, the independent animation house behind this hinder odor, have tried to do something outside the traditional Hollywood megacorp cartoon machine. And you know what, they succeeded. This is horrible; much worse than Titan A.E., Cats Can't Dance and The Care Bears Eat Their Young. This neverending bit of boredom really outdoes the big boys in unabashed uselessness. Conventional cartoons are usually fun, foolish and sometimes fantastic. So, in comparison – YES! - this stillborn shite is way beyond that custom.
From non-detailed human faces to overly drawn vacuous villains, Marco Polo: Return to Xanadu is family entertainment at its worst. Nothing here works, not the cheesy, 'wish Whitney would cover me' balderdash ballads, not the random, scattershot plotting or the attempts at comedy and action. Starting off with one of the most miserable premises ever to cross an animated storyline, MP is P.U. in narrative notions. Come on, a hunchbacked bell ringer is a bad movie idea and a sexually provocative stray cat is even worse. But to base a kid's film around a mostly forgotten explorer who is better remembered by those in short pants as an irritating swimming pool game? What genius came up with that anal nugget of wisdom? Heck, why not make a rollicking, feel good film about the Donner Party, or the musical misadventures of lepers in Hawaii - anything besides a love triangle between an Italian voyager, a Chinese chump and the malformed maniac who lusts after both of them. But no, the tainted trio of Toon U (Igor Meglic, Chris Holter and Ron Merk) figured that the only way to live a boy's adventure tale is to loosely base a script around the most obscure example they can find. So the paisan of Prince Spaghetti day it is.
Then, it's all about the approach. Now, it's conceivable that, even with the stupidest set up since Michael Jordan played basketball with animated aliens, something decent could have been carved out of the fledgling filmmakers good intentions. If glorified skate rats can make halfway decent gore horror with a video camera and a few hits of acid, why can't professional animators from the former Czech republic do the same (minus the LSD and splatter punk rock, that is). Well, the answer is effort. This movie looks like it was drawn by people still suffering from decades of communist malnutrition. You can practically see the diluted borscht and acidic cabbage water in every frame. When Christmas Is and a McDonald Land Easter start to look like Allegro Non Troppo, you know you're witnessing stinky pen and ink inanity. But it's not just the style, which can best be described as Worker and Parasite meets Mrs. Grendle's Kindergarten class. The basic idea of character continuity is tossed out, like a colicky baby with the beer brine, throughout this film. Foo-Ling (give the namer of this nonsense an award, pronto) shifts shape from humungous to human within a single shot. Vultures who appear tiny in one frame are titanic the next. Any animator worth his salt will tell you that properly mapped characters are the key to a film's believability and playability. Marco Polo: Return to Xanadu wants none of this. As long as the dimensional drawings move about like dervishes with ADD, they could care less about how they look in ratio or scale to each other.
And then there is the script, a syrupy jumble of mixed messages and incoherent causation. Several stifling questions keep rearing their ignored noggin, arcane issues that really make this movie a tainted trip through tripe. Just what generation is Marco Polo? Is his missing Dad the REAL Polo, or just suffering from polio? Why is Foo-Ling (lord love that name!) about 4000 years old? And why does he look less human that every other member of recorded Asian lineage? How does he communicate with that vulture? Mind melds? Sexy whispering? And if it takes Marco Polo 45 minutes to travel from the locations of his various escapades to Xanadu, why can Ling's henchmen travel back and forth from China to the rest of the world in a matter of seconds? Do they know a shortcut? Are they all some manner of being that can fold space? And why, exactly, is the Dinosaur, who really looks more like a dragon (PETE'S dragon, to be exact, except without all of Charlie Callas' mouth farting going on) so delicate? Is it a heart condition? A bad back? Something to do with a misspent youth in club culture? Avoiding the whole pea eyed Princess and Foo's unhealthy obsession with having a wedding night with her (oh, and all the non-Brazilian time travel going on) Marco Polo just won't appease its qualms. And this lack of clarity hangs over the entire enterprise like a pigsty shadow. Without vibrant bright beings for baby to fixate on and too much missing plot nonsense to warrant an attention span, this is one bad babysitter.
So call it Rank-in Amatuer and Bass Tardization or Sid and Marty Krapp. Label it the last gasp of a pre-Pukes-ar mentality or a direct derivation of Mickey Rat's lousy lineage. But don't pretend that Marco Polo: Return to Xanadu is anything other than an inexpensive (and cheap is the operative word here) enterprise to capture a small swatch of that huge home video parenting pie. The stench of sell-through that emanates from this manufactured fungus is so pungent that French pigs will try to dig it up for use by snobby chefs. The music will remind you why Tiffany no longer has a career and the character design should act as a warning for anyone interested in art to never do intravenous drugs and sketch wizards at the same time. While it may keep the kiddies comatose for a couple of hours, it will also turn them into human algae, capable of only the most basic single celled form of function. While it's harsh to say it, and it's obviously not what the hard working creators want to hear, but Marco Polo: Return to Xanadu makes the Michael Beck muse romp with a similar last name seem like Singin' in the Rain. The old poem states, "In Xanadu, did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree". Applying it to this movie, something similar can be paraphrased: "Cause of Marco Polo: Return to Xanadu, did Kubla Khan a stupid piece of dung decry".
Parents buy colorful crib mobiles and place them over their progeny to help stimulate infant's tiny cortex. Using Marco Polo: Return to Xanadu for the same purpose will definitely get the desired results, since this movie is a celebration of the crayon box. But that doesn't mean that the transfer is reference quality, or even excellent. Most of the film is faded and looks murky and muddy. This could be the direct result from the lack of detail in the animation, still the 1.66:1 non-anamorphic, basically almost full screen image has a great deal of clarity conundrums.
The biggest flaw in the aural offering here is that we can clearly and completely hear every droning, drooling drivel of the musical numbers, witness the witless dialogue in crystalline comfort and get all gooey from the super saccharine score. The Dolby Digital Stereo Surround (labeled as 4.0 – hmmm) is decent, but derivative. This is not a speaker-exploring extravaganza. The words are up front. The foley is all around. And eardrums are begging for mercy.
Even though this title is distributed by Warner Brothers, it's obvious that someone over at Tooniversal is smoking stink weed. They decided to load up this dismal DVD with the kind of bonus content you'd expect from a real animated classic (unless it's released by the nasties over as Diz). There is a making of documentary (taken from a so-called show named Splat) that offers a glowing glimpse into the creation of this cruel crud. The filmmakers do seem honest and sincere and it's hard to hold a grudge...until they start showing storyboards and animated sequences. Then the urge to disembowel starts to rise. The short subjects ("Xanadu it Faster" and "Marco Polo Travels Around the World") are just excuses to show some stupid cinematic tricks. "World" highlights how other countries created their own vocal tracks for this film (the singing in Hungarian is hilarious) while "Faster" is a clip good to its word: you get to see the whole 80 minute mess of a movie in four blissfully brief minutes. No dialogue. No singing. Just fast-motion making the pain go away. But agony re-enters the picture with the rest of the content. The music videos will give your sensibility spasms (including one featuring a choir's interpretation of one of these tainted tunes), the art gallery is glorified garbage and the theatrical trailer features caffeinated rugrats extolling the virtues of this paltry picture (one terrible tot even gives us a triple thumbs up that almost resembles the Italian salute to "sod" off). Combined with the cowpie crime against cartoons included therein, this DVD should have to register with local law enforcement for the amount of damage it has, can and will do to children.
Honestly, with the dearth of family films around that aren't steeped in Satanism or decidedly drug addled, a parent could do a lot worse than buying a copy of Marco Polo: Return to Xanadu for their kiddies. They could actually open it up and play it. Instead of lobbying for a registry for shoe sniffers, child rearers should forget the perverts and save their offspring from this idiocy. Guardians have dropped the ball on so many other infant unfriendly artifacts: the Ferbie, fruit rollups, Cannibal McCaw, the cartoon crow that eats itself. But now we have the insane and the uninspired making animated angst for fragile, underdeveloped egos to feed on. And apparently it is being rewarded (Six International Children's Film Festival Awards? ... A Dove Foundation Family Approved Seal?). But don't be fooled. This is not a good film for kids or anyone overly cranky and obsessed with their own butts. Indeed, anyone finding this merry mucilage magnificent is painfully in need of some deep dark deprogramming. Marco Polo: Return to Xanadu is a once in a lifetime chance to look into the belly of the beast and see how evil infiltrates the world, undermining all that is pure, gentle and magic about customs and traditions. At one time, Disney took the classy high road and created moving masterworks of the artist's craft like Pinocchio, Fantasia and Beauty and the Beast. Tooniversal would like to be mentioned in the same category as these seasoned veterans. Oddly enough, they can be. Uncle Walt's world has spent the last two decades raping its reputation over and over again, turning it into a mere multinational shadow of its former sentimental self. Marco Polo too will violate those fond memories of your pen and ink past. It's one filmic felony that should be forced to report its repugnance.
Want more Gibron Goodness?
Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here