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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Roach Approach: The Mane Event
The Roach Approach: The Mane Event
Fox // G // August 23, 2005
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Bill Gibron | posted August 23, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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A U D I O
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Highly Recommended
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No matter your belief system or specific denomination, there's no denying that religion has some of the best stories of any kind of prose. Since the very foundation of any faith is the ability to inspire the masses without a great deal of physical evidence lying around to back you up, tales are the way in for the advocate, and they have to be fairly potent. Whether you're talking about The Qur'an and its parables of cows and ants, or The Bible with its tales of plagues and giant fishes, there is a wealth of wonderful narrative and meaning in the great works of theological literature. And still, when seeking to spread the word, when looking for inspiration to get people of all ages interested in the notion of God, writers and filmmakers, priests and poets turn to their own incomplete ideas to offer the message. It's so sad that they can't see the best of all possible source materials lying right in front of them.

Some people get it right. Phil Vischer and his Big Idea company have made the Veggie Tales a household name, bringing the word and spirit to millions of families every year. The Storykeepers focus on the parables of Christ with a very Disney-esque look and design to their 2-D pen and ink offerings. Now Bruce Barry and his Wacky World Studios are taking the plunge into the competitive field of computer animation, offering up their own unique take on Bible stories. The novelty? Why, roaches of course. That's right. Cockroaches (heck, if zucchini and cucumbers can do it, why not bugs?). Thanks to 20th Century Fox, we now have a chance to witness the first in a proposed line of insect adventures. Combining traditional tales from the Old Testament with a positive and post-modern twist, The Roach Approach is quite enjoyable. And thanks to the care taken with script, characterization and emphasis, the religion angle is present, but never overpowering or unpleasant. As a matter of fact, The Roach Approach does one of the best jobs ever of bringing the epic tales of the Good Book to life.

The DVD:
The basics of The Roach Approach are as follows: Grandpa Lou and his wife Nana take care of their grandson, little Squiggz. The little roach has a couple of buddies, including the nerdy Cosmo and the overeager overeater, Flutter. It seems like, every time Squiggz has a problem, Grandpa Lou is there with a story from his past. See, these two bugs have been around a very long time. Indeed, they seem to always be "on vacation" exactly where and when one of The Bible's best known stories occur.

In The Mane Event, little Flutter wants to join Cosmo and Squiggz as a "fellow" Roach Ranger. They scoff, because no female bug has every joined the Ranger ranks. With Grandpa Lou's encouragement, Flutter comes along for an overnight camping trip at Petrified Point. Along the way, Grandpa tells the story of how he met Daniel in the lion's den, and how the devote man used his faith in God to protect him from the hungry jaws of his captors. Naturally, Gramps had an antenna or two in the rescue as well.

Why don't religious programmers get it? Faith-based entertainment doesn't have to be preachy, or overly stoic, to get its message across. Life is supposed to be the perfect example of religion in action, an everyday manifestation of how people choose or avoid the presence of God. And it's messy. It's filled with flaws and foibles. It's funny and it's offensive. But mostly, it's INTERESTING. If people wanted to be bored by scripture, they could listen to the Sunday sermon, and any number of overly pious products that supposedly spread the Good News while delivering some form of inert entertainment. All they usually give is parents a pain in the neck, as even the most hyperactive child finds themselves comatose after 30 minutes with some of these missteps.

That's why The Roach Approach is so wonderful. Combining the technically up-to-date dimension of CG, with good old fashioned imaginative storytelling and values, creator Bruce Barry has come up with a winner. Carefully constructed, built around ideas that actually work instead of forcing themselves upon you, and filled with enough vision and vitality to make kids AND adults happy, this is one of the best faith-based productions ever. Dare it be said, Barry could challenge Big Idea and his Veggie pals for dominance in the realm of spiritual kid vid. The whole concept, from the incredibly old Roach grandparents to the clever ways the metaphors for the original scripture stories are incorporated into the plot, gives off a certified sheen of professionalism. This is not just some hobby offered wholesale. This is a work of invention and a true labor of love.

Naturally, one has to focus on the art when discussing The Roach Approach. Pixar, Disney and other animation companies have all tried to jump on the bitrate bandwagon, but most end up looking like amateurs compared to the House of Mouse and the Toy Story titans. But Barry and his creators are up to the task, and while not as fully rendered as their big screen counterparts, the 3-D character concepts here are magnificent. The roaches maintain a cute comic basis while offering those tiny touches of genius we've come to expect from the genre. Eyes glint with real depth, and bodies move with a grace that comes from studied motion.

Even better are the backdrops. In The Mane Event, we are treated to a view along the boardwalk that the roaches live under. The streets are filled with people of literally all shapes, sizes and colors and it gives the show a sensational sense of the surreal and the silly. Some shots are just stunning, while others offer more intricacy and complexity than we expect from a kiddie cartoon - especially one based in The Bible. Yet, thanks to the talent of all those involved, The Roach Approach triumphs over its own inherent odds to be both fun and firm in its religious foundation. There is no lip service to God here, just the merest mention of the Lord before moving onto the fart jokes. No, Barry is dead serious about the scripture, and the material is presented in a way that is clear-cut, concise, and occasionally insightful.

When all are combined together, The Roach Approach becomes the best 45 minutes of faith-based animation on the market. If The Mane Event has a flaw, it's the whole hip-hop approach to the Lion's den. Fang the bat is fine (he is voiced by Christian rap sensation tobyMac) but the use of more "urban" voices for the lions makes for a couple of uncomfortable moments. Still, the design is stunning, with the finale act appearance of an angel doing a great job of inspiring majesty without a lot of complicated camera tricks. Along with a couple of exciting actions scenes (the roaches find themselves trapped in a runaway mason jar) we get adventure and artistry, all in one setting. And Barry doesn't make the main mistake, that of taking The Roach Approach into preach and teach territory. He'd rather get God's message across with humor and heart, and this series has both.

Here's hoping that Wacky World Studios continues to deliver these delightful titles. People without a penchant for spirituality or a fear that the virtuous points will be provided with all the nuance of a sledgehammer need not worry. Barry makes his living as a creator of themed environments - an individual who takes church classrooms, family centers and other spaces and introduces fantasy elements into their design. The results are practical and inviting, like stepping into another world that actually functions. He wants to make learning alluring, to fool those who are afraid into hearing what he has to say in spite of their own aversions or biases. But the most important thing is that it must FUNCTION as what it was designed for. And a cartoon is created to be fun. Barry truly does succeed with The Roach Approach.

The Video:
Colorful without being busy, and detailed without resorting to annoying digital defects, the visual presentation of The Roach Approach: The Mane Event is wonderful. There is a real depth here, a sense of space and distance that usually fails to come across on the TV screen. The 1.33:1 full frame image is bright, bouncy, and occasionally very beautiful. You would never guess that this was the product of a non-mainstream movie studio.

The Sound:
On the sonic side, The Roach Approach is excellent. The voice acting is superb, the songs are simple and direct, and the overall ambiance is respectful but fun. We don't get the typical cartoon chaos, a nonstop barrage of noises and nonsense hoping to draw the viewer away from the derivative plotting. Instead, the Dolby Digital Stereo keeps the dialogue upfront and decipherable, while the foley and other sound effects flesh out the rest of the professional mix.

The Extras:
Since this is Wacky World's second DVD release, there is an added emphasis on bonus content, and what we get here is very good. We begin with something called "The Inside Scoop", and it features Barry going through a sketchbook of concepts for the film. Next is an eight minute making-of that catches the actors and special guests doing their voice work. "Creative Team Members", another section, focuses on the crew, and gives us glimpses of how the CGI is realized. For anyone curious for more character information on Squiggz, Flutter or Cosmo, the "Meet the Roach Rangers" feature is a good place to gain said insight. "Imagine with Bruce" is a four minute lesson in cartooning from The Roach Approach creator, and there's even a preview for the upcoming David and Goliath installment of the series. Add in a Strawberry Shortcake trailer and you've got a wonderful digital package that really compliments and supplements The Roach Approach experience.

Final Thoughts:
Perhaps it's the foundation in fundamentalism that turns people off to most religious based entertainment. After all, critics are constantly apologizing for religious content, making such unnecessary statements as to how "well done" and "understated" it is. Frankly, if done properly, any subject can shine as entertainment. You don't need a bully pulpit, or a barely visible bandstand, to make your point. The Roach Approach proves this in fascinating, near flawless ways. The animation is top notch, the storytelling is inventive and the overall tone is engaging and welcoming. Bruce Barry wants you to sit down and spend a few minutes with his insect friends. They promise to make you smile, to tell you about their faith and their bug-based beliefs, and hopefully, encourage a little spirituality on your behalf. But a quick conversion is not necessary. It's not even warranted. The Roach Approach: The Mane Event can be viewed as sound scripture in cartoon form, or it can be seen for what it really is; entertaining animation done very well. As the theme song says, don't squash these roaches. Instead, give them a chance. After all, they have one of the best source materials available for their stories.

Want more Gibron Goodness? Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here

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