I grew up smack-dab in the middle of the "Claymation Craze," which yielded The Noid on Domino's commercials, "The California Raisins" on those raisin commercials, numerous short films, and one feature-length experiment entitled The Adventures of Mark Twain. The man behind the Clay-craze was Mr. Will Vinton, and I've no problem opining that his animation style was something pretty darn amazing. Well, it was when it was used for a movie like this; those damn raisins really got annoying after a while.
Remembered rather fondly by several members of my generation (but probably forgotten by even more) is The Adventures of Mark Twain, which is arguably one of the weirdest "kids' flicks" of the 1980s ... if you even consider it a kids' flick in the first place, that is.
The plot sees three of Mark Twain's most memorable characters, Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, and Becky Thatcher, stowing away on board the author's crazy flying machine and flitting through a series of isolated adventures. Mr. Twain, you see, was fairly obsessed with the phenomenon known as Haley's Comet, and it was his goal to make contact with the celestial body before he shuffled off this planet.
So while practically all of Vinton's film takes place on the magical starship, there are numerous side-trips taken to some of Twain's most memorable creations. Screenwriter Susan Shadburne (Mrs. Vinton, incidentally) pulls moments and sequences from Twain's The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, The Diaries of Adam and Eve, Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven, and several others ... while her husband and his crew worked for years to bring the stories to life through the magic of clay.
And while I'd be the first to fall all over myself praising the CG magic of Pixar, there's something overwhelmingly sweet, slick, and charming about Vinton's Claymation techniques, and the unique animation style makes The Adventures of Mark Twain something worth savoring.
Fair warning to parents, though: There's some devilishly dark material scattered throughout this creation. Probably nothing nightmare-worthy, but enough to make you wonder which demographic this movie was made for. For a grown-up kid like me, however, the thing worked like a charm. It's weird and witty and eye-poppingly nifty to behold, and (much to the amusement of many) it's now available on DVD.
Video: It's a crisp and clean, if not overtly astonishing, anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer. The flick looks as good as can be expected, barring a full digital facelift, and the old-school fans should be quite pleased indeed.
Audio: English 3.0 LCRS, which is a new one to me, but it sounds pretty solid across the board.
Extras: Just a handful of trailers for Sony product, which is a shame when you consider how much time and effort must have gone into this movie. Even a commentary from Mr. Vinton would have been appreciated.
The 2-part "Adam & Eve" sequence was my favorite stuff by far, but there's more than enough weird and wise material to keep you entertained -- especially if you're an animation buff or a Samuel Clemens aficionado. (Those who adore the works of Nick Park should also find a whole lot to like in this odd little winner.)