The versatile ventriloquist Jeff Dunham takes the leap into animation with "Achmed Saves America." One of Dunham's recurring characters, Achmed in puppet form is a manic skeleton, still very much alive after being blown up in a foiled terrorist act. A bit politically incorrect perhaps, but in Dunham's act it's usually funny. Here he's transformed into an animated character (after a live-action intro where he expresses a deep longing to become a cartoon) and let loose in an hour-long affair. After his latest terrorist misfiring (mocking a "Road Runner" cartoon) he finds himself landing on a "Liberty Freedom Airways" plane headed for America and lands right outside the all-American town of Americaville. A stereotypical American family, the Wilsons, runs into him in their minivan and mistakes him for the French exchange student they're supposed to pick up- they figure he's from France after telling them "I hate you and I hate this country!" They take him home, and he begins building a huge bomb which he plans to detonate during Americaville's 100th anniversary celebration. After planting it under the town square celebration, Achmed suddenly has a change of heart as the citizens (including a stereotypical redneck also voiced by Dunham) embrace his cultural differences and make him an honorary citizen- and he figures the all-you-can-eat buffets are a pretty good reason not to blow the place up as well.
Translating this character into animated form has its pros and cons- on one hand the animated version of Achmed can do much more physically than he can as a puppet, but on the other hand puppets are the main element of Dunham's act (which he designs and builds himself), and making one of these characters into a cartoon seems a bit counterintuitive (reason why I never liked the animated "Muppet Babies" show.) Letting that slide, it's sometimes a bit of a challenge for Achmed to carry the whole thing by himself- although there are a couple blink-and-you'll-miss-them cameos from other Jeff Dunham characters, it might have been a better idea to give some of them a bigger part in this. There are a couple points with a big punch-line which would have been suitable endings, yet the production continues at length afterwards. Still, many of the supporting characters created for "Achmed Saves America" make it enjoyable, most of them stereotypical middle-Americans. Although Dunham voices many characters other than Achmed (and it would be a very impressive effort if he'd voiced every character), there is a large supporting voice cast including Tom Kenny (best known as SpongeBob SquarePants) as the host family's dad.
The animation, produced by Bento Box with additional help from Rough Draft Animation, looks very clean on Blu-Ray, with most characters sharply outlined as seems to be the trend at least in current TV-based animation. In keeping with the theme, the colors red and blue are used predominantly. During the live-action intro I noticed a bit of compression artifacts but the rest looked pretty much perfect.
As with previous Comedy Central Blu-Ray releases, 5.1 Dolby TrueHD and 2-channel standard Dolby Digital tracks are included. The 5.1 mix isn't very aggressive but suits the material, with dialogue often panned to the left and right up front and occasional uses of the surround channels.
I'd previously reviewed the Blu-Ray of Jeff Dunham's "Minding The Monsters" special, which included some rather in-depth extras, but the only video extra here is a 4-minute making-of piece. The back cover plays it up a bit as including "tour of the animation studio, original script reading and voiceover session" and you do see those during the four minutes but not quite as much as some might like. Still it's interesting to see how some of the animation was tweaked during production, as it was done via computers although it's clearly made to mimic the style of hand-drawn animation without as much intensive labor involved. There's also a commentary track with Jeff Dunham, Kelly Asbury (who also appeared on the "Minding the Monsters" commentary) and scriptwriter Michael Price.
Being familiar with Jeff Dunham's act will probably affect your enjoyment of "Achmed Saves America" as that will give you a basis for the Achmed character and much of the humor, otherwise it might play like a pilot for a potential animated series. While it may not be a great work of art, in the end it's an entertaining diversion.
Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector (with an unhealthy preoccupation with obsolete and failed formats) and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.