Warner Bros. // 2003 // 150 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // July 20th, 2004
Master Shake, to Frylock: "It's all starting to make sense now. The levitation...the evil book reading...those cream cookies you're always eating...you're a damn witch!"
Can you imagine the look on a studio executive's face during a pitch meeting for Aqua Teen Hunger Force? The pitch would go something like this: "Yeah, we'll turn a Happy Meal into living, breathing crusaders for hunger, only they won't really do any of that, they'll just sort of meander about, getting into trouble, maybe pretending to be detectives so they can make some fast cash, and they'll run into weird aliens, crazed robots, and scary creations that are accidentally set free from the labs of Dr. Weird. We'll call it...[dramatic pause] Aqua Teen Hunger Force!"
Neither can I, so let's just thank our lucky stars that series creators Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro are persistent types, or we wouldn't have the specific brand of fun that is ATHF.
The ATHF leader (of sorts) is Master Shake, an enormous shake with ineffectual hands that grow directly from his body. He enjoys talking, tormenting Meatwad, babbling, inventing problems, and issuing orders. Then there is Frylock, a cool dude with a wizard vibe who happens to be a box of super-sized fries and can shoot laser beams out of his eyes. He likes to tinker with his computer, read books, date online, and make sure Shake isn't doing something to harm Meatwad. Meatwad, a ball of meat with eyes and a mouth (but no identifiable brain) is the child in the group -- innocent, demanding, occasionally annoying.
Together, they are the Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
They don't so much fight as sort of tolerate or aggravate an extensive rogues' gallery of villains, starting with two pixelated, smug little Atari game rejects called the Mooninites. These two-dimensional aliens come to earth, commit mayhem, smoke like chimneys, and usually return to the moon with their tails between their legs, having been somehow outwitted by the ATHF. Also regularly appearing from the depths of space are the Plutonians, two laid-back types who just want to destroy the earth and don't understand why the ATHF is always getting in their way. Then there's the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past, who looks kind of like a turkey; a strange alien spore who communicates by taking over a host brain (and experiences some frustration with Meatwad); an annoyingly unbeatable trivia champion who turns out to have an enormous brain that he disguises with a green afro; a time-traveling caveman who gets bored easily; and a psychotic, rapping spider who was sent to hell in Season One but who has reappeared as a lower life form in order to prove his worth (unfortunately, he meets the ATHF, so you can imagine how it ends).
In addition to these distractions, their long-suffering neighbor Carl occasionally makes an appearance, usually to complain about something. He likes to wear sweatpants and sleeveless tanks, and he leads a cursed life. He can't catch the interest of women, perhaps because of the volumes of hair that grow from practically every part of his body except for his skull; he can't get the "Food Monsters" that live next to him to move away; and he can't enjoy the pool out back because they are constantly befouling it or floating in it. "I know you pee in there," Carl sighs, resigned.
Finally, there are two antagonists who appear in every episode opener but have virtually nothing to do with the episode itself: Dr. Weird, a megalomaniac mad scientist who likes to invent scary and disgusting creatures and gadgets, and his assistant Steve, a milquetoast who is sometimes the unwilling guinea pig when one of Dr. Weird's creations goes out of control (as they usually do). Dr. Weird is the king of non sequiturs, and he usually starts the episode off with a big laugh.
The episodes in this two-disc set are:
* Mail-Order Bride
* Super Birthday Snake
* Universal Remonster
* Super Bowl
* Super Hero
* Super Squatter
* Super Spore
* Super Model
* Super Trivia
* Super Sir Loin
* Super Computer
* Meat Zone
* Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future
Once again, in keeping with a strange tradition of not shipping out whole seasons, you get two episodes from Season Two that were left out of Volume One of ATHF (even stranger, they bookend the other episodes rather than both appearing at the top of the list), and about half of Season Three, for thirteen episodes total. Add to this commentaries on four of the episodes, a generous helping of extras, and several hidden surprises, and once again it's another good deal for ATHF fans (especially considering how hard it is to catch one of these episodes during its original run).
ATHF is not "safe" comedy; think Space Ghost on quaaludes. There are approximately a hundred things that make this show so weird and wonderful -- the strange story logic, the bizarre plots, the jumpy editing, the manic dialogue, or the sudden insertion of a completely out-there sequence, just to name a few. It's no coincidence that the heroes are a trio of fast food items -- the show is most popular with the McDonald's generation, and peripherally with anyone who appreciates extreme weirdness.
Personally, this show leaves me howling with laughter, mostly because it isn't trying to make me laugh. Master Shake isn't saying anything deliberately funny -- he is hilarious merely by his existence, or possibly his petulant voice. Frylock is the "straight man" of the piece, and he never says anything even remotely humorous, yet he is hilarious merely for his thoughtful reactions to the utter chaos that surrounds him. It's a very synergistic kind of humor -- no one element is funny by itself. Sometimes, it isn't until Carl enters the scene with a new injury that he matter-of-factly complains about ("I have to drain it three times a day just so my brain works good. We're hoping that's temporary.") that things seem funny. The villains are usually fall-down funny, especially when they come in all slavering and bug-eyed and scary but then talk in a really mild voice and just want to do normal, everyday things. In this upside-down world where Happy Meals are human-sized and have mortgages, it's usually the pipsqueaks who make the most commotion.
Also part of the appeal, although the show's creators do not share this opinion (judging from the commentaries), is the bargain-basement animation. Ripped-off backgrounds from other cartoon shows, stilted movements, pixelated close-ups, and obviously digitized items and effects add to the ambiance rather than detracting from it. It's something that was necessary so the makers could get the show off the ground and convince the studio that yes, it could work, and it helps to keep costs down so they can continue to do things as weird as they would like. It works for the show, and I hope they keep it up. I'm sure there are animation snobs out there who shudder at the possibility that Carl will always be lying down in the same basic pose that he takes when standing up, but to them I point out that Carl now has a few more expressions, and he actually wore a different shirt a couple of times in Season Three, so chill out.
Part of the value of the ATHF set is the extras, and there are a ton of them. To start with, a Space Ghost episode entitled "Baffler Meal" is included (the creators for ATHF also worked on Space Ghost). This episode represents a sort of space-time paradox, as it features an early concept for the Food Trio that was pitched (and immediately rejected) as a Space Ghost episode long before ATHF made it to series, but which came back to life and was produced as-is on Space Ghost after ATHF began.
Still with me?
Good, because this episode is funny. It does not technically predate the ATHF series, but it looks like it does. Frylock is completely different, and totally disturbing, and I am so glad they did not do this version of Frylock in the series. However, I kind of liked the Master Shake and Meatwad character design. It's like a surreal alternate-universe look at the ATHF. This episode of Space Ghost also comes with a commentary that explains just what the $! is going on, and includes the live-action creators rocking about the Aqua Teens. This segment is also presented as a "music video" extra.
Three of the ATHF episodes have a commentary track as well, and they make me wish all of the episodes had a commentary. You might imagine that the commentators would just joke and mess around for the entire commentary, but that is not the case -- there is some joking and laughter, but they also discuss behind-the-scenes happenings, motivations behind story changes and choices, what it is like to do the voices, and so on -- each commentary is solid and enjoyable. Next, there are some deleted scenes from the episodes, and two featurette segments hosted by a creature called "Future Wolf," who attempts to tell the story of the origin for the series.
Perhaps most fun are the hidden segments, which can be found by going to the episodes sections of Disc One and arrowing around until the cursor highlights a bit of garbage or a wall outlet -- click, and you will see the complete version of each of the puppet sequences shown on the television Master Shake is constantly watching, and even the complete "Vegetable Man" and "Assisted Living Dracula" sequences from the Volume One episodes.
Visual transfer for the episodes is good, with a clear image that conveys the bright colors nicely, but there is a slight bit of softness to the image that could be due to the source material for some of the sequences. Sound transfer is also good, with some light fuzziness during certain sequences -- again, probably related to the source material. However, the 5.1 transfer makes good use of all the channels for ambient sound and off-screen character dialogue.
Not enough Mooninites. Word is, they are going to be spun off into a new series of their own, but c'mon! Just one appearance in the whole of Volume Two? I need my Mooninite fix.
Not enough commentaries. C'mon, guys -- do a commentary for every episode next time.
This is really the best way to see ATHF -- free of commercials, available whenever you want to see it, and offering the ability to pause and rewind, for those times when you are laughing and slapping your knee over large stretches of dialogue, which may or may not be necessary, but that you don't want to miss. A must-have for any fan of the show.
Other than a slap on the wrist for the deplorable lack of Mooninite episodes, Aqua Teen Hunger Force is free to go stir up more trouble.
Review content copyright © 2004 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 150 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Space Ghost "Baffler Meal" Episode
* Deleted Scenes
* Commentaries for "Super Trivia," "Meat Zone," "Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future," and "Baffler Meal"
* "Baffler Meal" Music Video
* "Future Wolf II: Origin of the Series" Featurette
* "Future Wolf III" Featurette
* Official Site