By Scott Hettrick
'Joseph: King of Dreams'
(DreamWorks, VHS $24.99, DVD $26.99, rated PG) 2000. Directed by Robert Ramirez and Rob LÃ¡uca; voices by Ben Affleck, Mark Hamill, Steven Weber and Judith Light.
DreamWorks has finally outdone Disney with an animated film.
"Joseph: King of Dreams" is the best movie premiering on video this year, and one of the top five of all time. Not only does the 75-minute "Joseph: King of Dreams" offer superior production value and far better songs than Disney's recent video premiere, "The Little Mermaid: Return To The Sea," it is also more entertaining and engaging than Disney's theatrical animated feature "The Tigger Movie," which was originally intended to be a video premiere.
Though produced by the studio and creative team behind "The Prince of Egypt," the animation and production values here are not even close to "POE." Nonetheless, the adaptation of the Biblical story of the boy whose extraordinary gift for seeing the future in his dreams and the consequences of that gift is written well enough and directed to keep audiences -- especially young ones -- entertained.
"Joseph" faithfully recounts how Joseph's dreams spark his jealous brothers to secretly sell him to a trader in Egypt where Joseph capitalizes on a series of opportunities to gain power and prestige. He ultimately is put in a position years later to decide the fate of his scheming brothers.
(Fox, VHS $19.98, DVD $26.98, rated PG) 2000. Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman; voices by Matt Damon, Bill Pullman, Drew Barrymore, John Leguizamo, Nathan Lane and Janeane Garofalo.
"Titan A.E." is the closest thing to a movie that feels like a video game since "Tron."
This 95-minute combination of "Heavy Metal" and "Star Wars" from veteran animator Don Bluth follows the futuristic adventures of a young man who becomes a reluctant hero when he realizes the future of the human race is dependent on his finding and securing the remains of Earth that are hidden in a space ship before it is destroyed by an alien race.
Although the animated film got pounded by critics last summer, lost a ton of money and cost a top studio executive his job, viewers -- especially teen-age boys -- who don't have unrealistic expectations based on the production budget and the hype should find it quite entertaining.
That being said, "Titan A.E." so shamelessly borrows liberally from every space movie of the last few decades that some viewers may find themselves rolling their eyes and shaking their head in disbelief and disgust.
But even though it's a blatant rip-off of a scene in "The Empire Strikes Back," there is one stand-out sequence late in "Titan A.E." involving a spacecraft's flight through a maze of ice that has such dazzling computer animation that the viewer will overlook its lack of originality and enthusiastically go along for the virtual ride. The fact that this ride ends well will leave viewers relatively satisfied.
'Toy Story' DVD set
Disney has just released the first three-disc DVD set ($69.99) that offers two related movies -- the groundbreaking "Toy Story" and its hilarious sequel "Toy Story 2" -- as well as an entire disc with nothing but nearly six hours of fun behind-the-scenes programming, delightful outtakes and amusing extras.
It's Disney's most elaborate DVD yet. A similar set devoted to "Fantasia"/"Fantasia 2000" will be released later this month.
In addition to the full disc of supplemental material, each "Toy Story" movie disc features its own extras, such as the more than 50 clever "interstitials" -- brief gags featuring "Toy Story" characters -- that were run between Saturday morning cartoons and commercials on Disney's ABC. Those "treats" are one of a couple of new elements relating to the original "Toy Story" that were not included on the elaborate special laserdisc edition a few years back, most of which are also included in this set. Among those extra features are a documentary on the making of the movie, an audio commentary and the 1988 Academy Award-winning short that preceded "Toy Story" called "Tin Toy."
One of three other computer-animated shorts from the "Toy Story" creators at Pixar, the 1986 "Luxo, Jr.," is included on the "Toy Story 2" disc, but three others that were on the laserdisc -- the 1987 "Red's Dream," the 1989 "Knickknack" and the 1984 "The Adventures of Andre And Wally B" -- are not in this DVD set that offers a preview of the next Disney/Pixar feature-length "movieMonsters, Inc." instead.
The character development, humor and general entertainment value in "Toy Story 2" are Buzz Lightyears ahead of the original. Like "A Bug's Life," viewers are offered two versions of the movie on DVD, the widescreen format representing the way it was shown in theaters after being transferred to film, or a full-screen version, which in this rare case is actually the better choice since it represents the original version as created in the computer. Once again, the creators have physically recomposed many shots by digitally rearranging characters and set pieces to make better use of both the full-frame and widescreen formats.
The extras relating to "Toy Story 2" are all new and, like the sequel movie itself, loads of fun.
Among the most enjoyable elements are the abandoned concepts and deleted scenes, the latter showing an alternate sequence that got Woody down to the yard sale in a very different way, and a slightly altered version of the inspired road-crossing that primarily features different backgrounds.
In a first for Disney, the DVD also features an "Easter egg" hidden in a menu relating to cowgirl Jessica that shows (when the viewer moves the selector to the left and clicks on the question mark that pops up) an animator's mischievous and dark-humored alternate ending to the scene in which Jessica is driven to the country and left in a box by her owner.
Another interesting first for the studio is a section that allows viewers to use the alternate camera angle feature to compare the simultaneously running initial designs, storyboards and final production of several scenes. There are also a raft of faux outtakes that try too hard (and unsuccessfully) to be as cute and clever as those in "A Bug's Life," and a guide to the "hidden" jokes in "Toy Story 2" that mostly make insider references to the original movie and "A Bug's Life."
Director John Lasseter introduces most of the extra features with the same boyish enthusiasm that he clearly instills in the production of his movies. "Toy Story 2" is filled with all kinds of inspired gags, including a poke at Disney by a Barbie doll in a toy store who notes that "short-sighted" executives did not capitalize quickly enough in 1995 on the merchandising opportunities connected to the first movie.
But it's the movie's innovative story lines involving the cowboy doll Woody meeting a potentially new family of dolls to live with when he is kidnapped by a toy collector, and the friendship of his ragtag group of doll friends back home who set out on a daring and nearly ill-fated rescue mission, that give "Toy Story 2" its heart and soul, and make the most lasting impact with the viewer.
The hours of extra material on the collector's edition DVD merely enhance and extend that pleasure.