So you're a small video distributor looking to cash in on the impending frenzy surrounding the upcoming "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequel. More specifically, you're Gaiam, a company specializing in exercise videos looking to branch out with other fare. What do you do? Looks like you nab a pirate-related movie that's taken in more superficial changes than Ashlee Simpson, slap a low price sticker on it, and hope for some quickie returns, that's what.
The movie they nabbed is "The Pirates of Tortuga: Under the Black Flag," a cartoon that began in Germany as the 2001 release "Die Abrafaxe - Unter Schwarzer Flagge," then took on an English redub and ran on Cartoon Network as "Under the Black Flag: The Abrafaxe." ("Abrafaxe" refers to the heroes of a long-running German comic book "Mosiak;" being virtually unknown in the West, it's understandable why the name was dropped from the title.) The movie landed a tiny DVD release from Main Street Entertainment a few years back, only to reappear here under a slightly new title. Oddly, the film's producer is Universal, and their logo appears all over the place. I suppose the fact that they couldn't be bothered to release the thing themselves should clue you in on what to expect.
"Tortuga" is a relentlessly sloppy adventure yarn that finds three boys get accidentally sucked back to Ye Olde Pirate Days thanks to a magical golden bowl. Taking this turn of events surprisingly well, they wind up joining forces with Anne Bonny, voiced by pop star Nena (yes, that Nena), who also provides a fairly snazzy theme song. They're up against the infamous Blackbeard, who wants to steal their golden bowl, as it also provides the location for the hidden city of El Dorado. There's also a doofy Spaniard and his talking parrot, although I'm not sure what their purpose is in this movie other than falling over and talking funny. (Side note: The credits list the same voice cast as the German version, so I don't know if these are the same actors, or if the English cast merely went uncredited.)
It's all a mess, really; one scene has one of the boys suddenly having the bowl when we just saw the Spaniard with it a few seconds ago. Was this heavily (shabbily) edited from a longer, European version? The IMDB suggests not, with the running time for "Die Abrafaxe" matching the 81 minutes of "Tortuga." So it looks like it's just a half-baked pile of confusion, something tossed together without much thought, figuring that kids won't notice, or, at least, won't care.
And they might not. There's enough mediocre action here to pass the time for the little ones if nothing else is on. But that's not really enough. There's nothing here worth following. It's all sub-par pirate adventure, with limp dialogue and uninspired storytelling that begs the viewer to drift away long before the final scene. Looks like the movie's backstory is much more interesting.
The animation is pretty dazzling here, with the traditionally animated 2-D characters popping off the screen, supported by passable 3-D CG backgrounds. Problem is, the widescreen (1.85:1) image gets no anamorphic transfer. Ugh. I want to think they simply lifted Main Street's earlier transfer, also non-anamorphic, as the Main Street logo still appears at the start of the film. But the title's changed, so maybe not. Either way, it's a depressingly minimal effort.
The 2.0 stereo soundtrack comes in clearly, nicely balancing the dialogue, action, and effects. The fact that this is a redub job isn't too noticeable at all, either. The disc also features a Spanish track, although that was not included on the review copy I received.
Also not included on my copy are a set of downloadable games - mazes, hidden pictures, that sort of thing - apparently accessible through a DVD-ROM drive. I did get a set of temporary tattoos, though. One of them's of the golden bowl. Because every kid wants a tattoo of a bowl.
If you're really desperate for some pirate filler to kill time for your kids before Jack Sparrow arrives, "Tortuga" might be worth a rental in a pinch. But it's only a last-minute desperation rental, really. I just say Skip It. There are better kids' adventures out there, many of which actually bother to make sense and keep one from dozing off halfway through. Arrrrr.