There have been a lot of studies on how birth order affects the success of siblings. I wonder if the same theories are applicable to successive creations by more or less the same team for different television series. Matt Groening and crew have set the animated standard for our age with The Simpsons (recently renewed through its 22nd [!] season). Hopes were high when Fox greenlit Groening's long-delayed follow-up series, Futurama, which mixed in its own anarchic way that long ago animated series The Jetsons with the patented irreverent Homer and Company brand of humor. Unfortunately, lightning didn't strike twice, and Futurama barely made it through four and a half seasons (not bad for most series, but somehow a disappointment when taking in Groening's one-hit wonder track record). No Family Guy DVD sales ensued leading to a television revival, but maybe something better happened: Groening and company developed four straight to video releases which, if press release plan are to be believed, will be subdivided into new broadcast episodes somewhere down the line. The fourth of these features, Into the Wild Green Yonder, continues the exploits of hapless pizza delivery boy Fry, catapulted a thousand years into the future after he's cryogenically frozen. This particular outing has the usual share of pop cultural zingers as the main plot hovers around themes of environmentalism, feminism, and that old standby, people who wear foil hats to keep out the alien voices.
The Simpsons is typically so much fun because you never know quite where any episode is going. Any particular setup is likely to take several brisk left turns into territory you could never have imagined. If Futurama tends to toe the line, more or less, it makes up for it with a frenetic joke a second ethos that keeps the proceedings manic and frequently very, very funny. Into the Wild Green Yonder has Amy Wong's dad developing a new, improved "Mars Vegas" that is probably going to wipe out the remnants of at least a couple of species, including the running gag of a leach that takes every opportunity to attach itself to Leela (Katey Sagal). Wong's ambitions don't stop there, though, as he's decides what the universe really needs is Giant (interstellar) Miniature Golf, which necessitates him destroying a "violet dwarf," creating a black hole that will suck your giant golf ball in at the end of the course so that you can't reuse it. Now think about that for a moment. That is incredibly brilliant writing, married to some relatively arcane science, that is delivered in a throwaway line that you might miss if you're not paying close attention. That is the sort of humor at which Futurama excels, and Into the Wild Green Yonder is full of such moments.
A subplot has acerbic cyclops Leela joining a bunch of eco-feminists who attempt to feminize various words to hilarious effect. The women also devolve into giggling cheerleader types, oohing and aahing over shoes and painting toenails when they're not sabotaging Mr. Wong's Giant Miniature Golf course. The leader of these ardent ecologists has a tendency to use her bullhorn even when it's not required, leading to some funny moments when they're attempting to elude the authorities.
Fry (Billy West) on the other hand, due to an explosion early in the film, finds he has developed mind reading abilities and soon finds himself befriended by a fellow mind reader who just happens to be homeless and wearing a foil helmet. That soon gets Fry involved with his own group of literal whackos, a brotherhood of foil-heads who are out to destroy Mr. Wong's plans at any cost.
Troublemaking robot Bender is up to no good with the wife of the robot mafia in a cute, if underdeveloped and strangely jettisoned sidebar. The rest of the supporting crew, like Dr. Zoidberg and Professor Farnsworth, are on hand to deliver at least a few great punchlines (Farnsworth especially has some great moments as he's continually hired by Wong to do environmental impact assessments, which are foregone conclusions due to the mountains of money Wong gives the elderly scientist).
Into the Wild Green Yonder certainly does just fine as a standalone item. Newcomers to the Futurama universe shouldn't have too much trouble figuring out what's going on; characters, much as they were in The Simpsons Movie, are introduced quickly and efficiently with often brilliantly written lines which immediately reveal their character traits. What's more impressive is Yonder's very thoughtful, if no less funny for it, development of long running Futurama gags and storylines. Fry's Delta-wave deficient brain, subject of at least a couple of long ago television episodes, ends up playing a vital role in the denouement of this particular film. The environmental aspect is highlighted by yet another member of the cursed Waterfall family, who meets an untimely fate similar to his kin. In one of the final shots of the film, hundreds of Futurama characters from the television series and the four follow-up films crowd the screen in an attempt to "bring it all home" as the four episode movie arc winds down. Most satisfying, however, is the sweet resolution of the long on-again, off-again romance between Fry and Leela. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out how that one ends up.
This is a fun and frenetic windup to a perhaps undervalued television gem. A bit bawdier and more risqué than The Simpsons, Futurama still shares its elder sibling's wise and witty look at human (and alien) foibles. Into the Wild Green Yonder sends our futuristic friends off into the final frontier with a great deal of panache. Fans are going to eat this up, and viewers new to the franchise are certainly going to find enough here to have at least a few hearty laughs. With The Simpsons seemingly unstoppable and Futurama finding more of an audience as the years go by, Groening and company may have to slightly alter Homer Simpson's catchphrase to "dough."
This is an exceedingly crisp looking BD, in a 1.78:1 AVC transfer that makes the most of both its handdrawn and CGI elements. The characters here resemble Groening's iconic Simpsons family, but Futurama has always upped the ante by featuring three dimensional CGI backgrounds, and those are offered here in abundance. Everything about this presentation, from line detail to an astoundingly vivid palette, is top notch. It may not be "blow your mind" totally CGI animation, but this is a most excellently sharp BD presentation.
Likewise the DTS HD-MA 5.1 is astoundingly crisp and robust, and for once surround channels don't get the short shrift. Rocket noises thunder and roar, and even the plop of a giant golf ball finally finding the hole has some real punch. Fun multi-channel effects are utilized when Fry is overwhelmed with voices filling his head. Dialogue is alway clear and directionally well placed. Quite simply, this is a lot of fun to listen to as well as to watch. Subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish, Cantonese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish.
A wealth of bonus material augments this BD. A fun commentary featuring Groening and crew can be listened to or seen PIP in the Bonus View option. "Storyboard Animatic" offers just that for the first segment of the film. A very funny mockumentary called "Docudrama: How We Make Futurama So Good" has only one flaw--it's too short at about 5 minutes. Several brief featurettes include "Louder Louder," about Penn Jillette, whose "head" makes a cameo in the film; "Golden Stinkers," about 3 minutes of deleted scenes; "Matt Groening and David X. Cohen In Space," our intrepid creators experiencing weightlessness; "3D Models" explores the CGI modeling process with animator commentary; "Bender's Movie Theater Etiquette" is advice you never want to follow from the universe's rudest robot; and "Zapp Brannigan's Guide to Making Love at a Woman," offers the would-be Lothario offering similarly bad advice. A longer piece, clocking in at over 11 minutes, is "How To Draw Futurama in 10 Very Difficult Steps." The BD case also includes four Futurama postcards printed on heavy stock.
This is a fine and funny send-off to Futurama, though, as Groening, Cohen and cohorts allude to in their commentary, it may not be the final final send-off. Futurama had the misfortune of being compared unfavorably to The Simpsons during its relatively brief broadcast run, but audiences have since discovered its own very unique charms. Into The Wild Green Yonder continues that charming streak, but best of all, it's laugh out loud hilarious for most of its 89 minute running time. Highly recommended.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet