Fox // 2009 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // February 23rd, 2009
"Kiss my shiny metal hat!"
Has the long-dreaded day finally arrived? Has the very last Futurama adventure finally adventured itself into adventuredom? I hope not, but that certainly seems to be a possibility. From 1999 to 2003, Matt Groening's Futurama offered up a weekly dose of smart and funny television animation. It was a terrific show and quickly established itself as a superior companion piece to the still-good-but-not-great Groening show The Simpsons. Alas, the ratings just weren't there, and Futurama was given the boot. Fortunately, all hope was not lost completely. It was announced that a series of straight-to-DVD movies would be created, with each film essentially offering four connected Futurama episodes that told one big story.
First there was Bender's Big Score, an entertaining adventure that was generally well-received. Most felt that the movie was not quite as good as the show had been, but the quality gap wasn't too big. Viewers were much less enthusiastic about The Beast With a Billion Backs, in which our heroes did battle with a omni-tentacled one-eyed monster. Bender's Game was a very entertaining lark, offering an affectionate and amusing parody of Dungeons and Dragons and The Lord of the Rings. Finally, we now have Into the Wild Green Yonder, an appropriately elegiac title for the last Futurama adventure. How does it compare to the other straight-to-DVD films? What's it all about, anyway?
In this film, Leo Wong (Billy West) is in the process of building "New Mars Vegas." During the construction process, the dim-witted Philip J. Fry (West again) gets a piece of metal stuck in his forehead. Wong initially worries that Fry is going to sue, but Fry couldn't care less about the potential brain damage. In fact, he's rather thrilled, because it seems that this piece of metal has given Fry the ability to read minds. He quickly determines to use this power to win a poker tournament in New Las Vegas. Unfortunately, his primary opponent is the rakish robot Bender (John DiMaggio). Fry plans to simply win the game by reading Bender's mind, but Bender has a secret weapon, too: a lucky foot that brings massive luck to anyone who has it. Much insanity ensues.
Following this little skirmish, there's a bigger problem to attend to. It seems that a very dangerous creature is loose. This creature is called "The Dark One," and he is a very evil creature indeed. The Dark One is intent on destroying another creature that could bring about the much-anticipated "Green Age," in which all extinct creatures will be brought back to life and nature will be restored. Fry and some homeless people attempt to come up with a plan to defeat The Dark One, Leela (Katey Segal) joins a group of feminists intent on doing battle with Mr. Wong, Bender and Professor Farnsworth (West yet again) join forces with whoever will give them a lot of money, and Zapp Brannigan (West once again) continues to lust after Leela, irritate his longsuffering second-in-command Kif (Maurice LaMarche), and accidentally destroy many innocent lives.
Into the Wild Green Yonder is a good film, a respectable finish to this series of straight-to-DVD films, and an appropriate conclusion to an on-and-off saga that has entertained viewers for the last 10 years. It's not the best of these movies (I still think that Bender's Game probably takes that award), but it comes in second. There are a lot of laughs here, to be sure, but perhaps it's unsurprising that the show is a little more serious this time around. Futurama has always been rather concerned with offering some thoughtful social messages, and that tendency really rears it's head throughout Into the Wild Green Yonder.
In case the title didn't give it away completely, saving the environment is the name of the game here. There are a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle sermons about the importance of preserving what we still have left, and I think it's commendable that such elements are permitted to play so forceful a role here. Ordinarily I'm not a fan of preachy films, because they typically offer sermons at the expense of the overall story. Here, the level of humor and wit is kept consistently high, making this the rare film that actually deserves the label, "edutainment." I particularly liked one bit toward the end, when the noble earth-restoring creature collects a sample of human DNA:
Creature: "I will take a sample of human DNA with me."
Fry: "Hey, I thought you only took DNA samples from endangered species!"
Creature: "Goodbye." (flies away)
Fry: "Huh. Guess he didn't hear me."
The film also takes some time for reflection outside the realm of environmental protection. At long last, a genuine romance is permitted to blossom between Fry and Leela, and they share a sweet moment towards the end that sets aside the snarky lines for one precious minute. Even so, I found this plot more of a pleasant side note than a significant factor, because the filmmakers almost seem to be granting the pair a happy ending begrudgingly. There's almost no build-up to the moment, adding to the tacked-on feel. Still, I'm happy for them.
Don't worry, Into the Wild Green Yonder isn't a great big mush-fest. Zapp Brannigan wouldn't allow such things to happen. My fellow Brannigan fans will be pleased to note that everyone's favorite short-skirt-wearing action hero has a fun role to play in this film, and he's as entertaining as ever. "Leela, we have you surrounded! If you surrender, wave your shirt in the air!" Bender gets a lot of fun moments in the film, as the character gets the opportunity to reach new heights of narcissistic depravity. There are also fun cameos from Penn and Teller (well, Penn and Teller's rotting head), Snoop Dogg, and Seth McFarlane (who does a spot-on Sinatra impression during an opening credits song).
The film is jam-packed with interesting visuals, but as usual, Fox sent out screener discs featuring sub-par A/V quality. Thus, I can't offer an official report on such things, but I can tell you that the supplements here are pretty comparable to the extras on the other films. A commentary with the cast and crew is included, and is typically lightweight yet entertaining. A handful of brief, funny little featurettes are included: "Docudramarama: How We Make Futurama so Good," "Louder, Louder: The Acting Technique of Penn Jillette," "Matt and David in Space," and "How to Draw Futurama in 10 Very Difficult Steps." These run about twenty minutes combined. Two goofy PSAs are onhand, one from Bender and one from Zapp Brannigan. Good for a giggle or two. On the more technical side, we have 22 minutes of storyboard animatics and four minutes of 3-D models. Finally, a few partially-complete deleted scenes are here. I only wish there were a preview here for another Futurama movie.
I hope that Groening and friends are able to keep this story going in some medium, but if this is truly the end, it's a perfectly good one. A strong finish to a pretty solid batch of movies.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Fake PSAs
* 3-D Models