Sometimes, life is defined by luck. There's no accounting for it, it just happens. So goes the story of Gabor Csupo and Arlene Klasky, a pair of Hungarian animation producers with a bleak future after "The Simpsons" booted them in favor of Film Roman after only one season. As luck would have it, the duo instead hit it big with the popular kids show "Rugrats", when Nickelodeon introduced Nicktoons in the mid-90's. Their distinctive art style started to become synonynous with the network when the pair went on to create subsequent shows, like "Aaahh!!! Real Monsters", "Rocket Power", and "The Wild Thornberrys" before eventually going back to the well, and spinning their original hit into a second series, called "All Grown Up". Still, their work on the cult comedy "Duckman" seems to hint at Csupo and Klasky's desire to create fare for older audiences, and now, two years after the fact, their feature-length grown-up cartoon Immigrants arrives on DVD.
The plot: Vlad (voice of Eric McCormack) and Joska (voice of Hank Azaria) are two immigrants looking to live the American dream. And, well, that's it. If there's anything that's plainly and completely evident from watching Immigrants (subtitled "L.A. Dolce Vita"), it's that Csupo (who serves as director) and Klasky (who retains producing duties) aren't necessarily moviemakers by trade. I didn't see Csupo's live-action venture Bridge to Terabithia, which may or may not have illustrated stronger feature-length sensibilities, but I get the sneaking suspicion that Immigrants was planned as a television series and forcefully stretched into a movie when they couldn't find a network that wanted to air it.
There are several miniature arcs in Immigrants, and none of them have any bearing on one another. In the first, Vlad and Joska look for work, and Vlad is hired by the conglomerate Glutco, where he uses his apparently effortless charm to get heated-up housewives to buy things. Joska rejects the consumerist overkill of Glutco, and opens a shack in the parking lot where you can buy just the opposite: only the exact, tiny increment you need at any given moment. In the second, the pair try to open a restaurant, but when they can't get a loan, they try and sell the food in the courtyard of the apartment where they live. Thirdly, Joska and Vlad head to a nightclub, where Vlad becomes obsessed with a vodka drinking contest and its $5000 prize money and Joska is hired as a doorman. Finally, the pair start working out and eating right in order to score the atttention of two beautiful joggers (wait, isn't Vlad a ladies' man?).
McCormack and Azaria are pretty funny in the lead roles (which are redubbed from the original Hungarian in an attempt to boost the film's profile; Tom Kenny, Freddy Rodriguez and Laraine Newman also play parts), but there isn't anything for them to really sink their teeth into. The plot is peppered with tired jokes, such as Vlad's attempt to drink the complex's crusty old landlady under the table before she tries to sleep with him, Vlad's daughter's desire for a tattoo, and the recurring use of "What is Love?" by Haddaway, which is territory Doug and Steve Butabi have already firmly staked as their own. Actually, they kind of sound like sitcom jokes -- really, there may as well be pauses in between each of the four plot sections, where the DVD plays commercials.
I suppose it's probably not Csupo and Klasky's fault that Immigrants is a formless blob of mildly diverting animation: sometimes projects just go wrong, and I can't fault them for trying to salvage the material. But Immigrants is not really a movie, and perhaps the pair are better off resting comfortably in their existing niche, rather than vying for a larger chunk of the same American Dream that Vlad and Joska want for themselves.
Talk about garish: The DVD cover for Immigrants is a mess of clashing fonts and colors that makes the movie look like it's already begging to be put in the bargain bin (I really think distractingly bad art discourages blind-buyers). The back cover is packed with empty space that should have been filled with images from the film, and more fonts. The disc art is equally cluttered, although the menu is quite the opposite: it looks like one of those insta-menus you find on DVD burning programs, with only "Play" and "Chapters" available. There is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Another thing that leads me to think that Immigrants was once destined for TV: the broadcast-friendly 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Since this is a cartoon, and a fairly recent one at that, the image is colorful and well-defined, although a few jagged edges pop up here and there.
My normally cooperative DVD programs did not allow me to identify the audio included on the disc, and it's not clearly identified on the packaging, although I'm 99.9% positive it's Dolby Digital 2.0. It sounds perfectly listenable, without any discernable effort at surround activity. If it's somehow a 5.1 track, it'd only be less impressive.
Skip it, unless you're a super, ultra, mega-fan of "Rugrats" and "Duckman".
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