Eureka Entertainment // 1986 // 86 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard // October 30th, 2011
Where Dreams Become Reality.
Now this takes me back. I first saw The Adventures Of Mark Twain upon its home video release in the UK. At that time it went under the name Comet Quest, and I still vividly recall its poster being displayed at the local video store. As I recall, I quite enjoyed the film, but until recently had all but forgotten it. In fact, it wasn't until I stumbled across a YouTube clip entitled "very creepy, disturbing children's cartoon, banned from TV" that I was reminded it even existed. The aforementioned clip, along with subsequent Google searches suggested that The Adventures Of Mark Twain is a horrifying, even disturbing experience. Surely this couldn't be right? Claymation cannot possibly disturb anyone, can it?
Well, thanks to the good people at Eureka, The Adventures Of Mark Twain (Blu-ray) (Region B) allows those curious about the film to check it out in glorious high definition.
Mark Twain, the famous author, is joined on his mission to track Halley's Comet by three stowaways: Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, and Becky Thatcher. Aboard his airship, the three youngsters are regaled by several of Twain's most famous stories. As their journey progresses, the children come to understand the greater meaning of these famous tales, and realize that in looking for the comet, Twain is in fact looking to meet his maker.
If The Adventures Of Mark Twain doesn't completely come together into a cohesive whole, it certainly isn't due to a lack of ambition. Combining some of Mark Twain's most famous works with an adventure that sees our intrepid crew set course for Halley's Comet, director Will Vinton delivers an intelligent, thought-provoking, and consistently entertaining picture that, particularly now, feels like a total one off.
In truth, The Adventures Of Mark Twain is less a children's film, and more a family movie; the difference being that, due to its content, younger children are likely to want to ask questions about what they are seeing. Never more is this true than during a segment based on Twain's story "The Mysterious Stranger." It is the film's most (in)famous sequence, and not without reason. While it is certainly darker than most children's entertainment -- leading to it to being omitted from television broadcasts of the movie -- it is no doubt a fascinating scene. In it, the children meet an angel who introduces himself as Satan. After having the children mold figures out of clay, Satan brings their creations to life and sets about demonstrating his twisted view of mankind, resulting in the deaths of the clay people. Now, let us for one minute be adults and put hysteria aside. Is it dark? Yes, undoubtedly. Disturbing? No, not really. Perhaps its inclusion in a children's feature took some people by surprise; perhaps modern audiences are simply unfamiliar with how dark children's films and TV series were "back in the day," but please, don't let the unwarranted reputation it has garnered over recent times overshadow the fine achievement of director Will Vinton.
This is not a film frightened of dealing with reality -- despite its fantastical setting -- and so touches upon the subject of death in a very open and honest way. While this will no doubt catch some off guard, those looking for intelligent storytelling will rejoice. Other big questions are asked too, taking in a range of topics from faith, science, and, most impressively, what it is to be human. The film frequently goes back to Twain's "The Diary of Adam and Eve" throughout its runtime, and the changes in tone this story takes best exemplify the film as a whole. Beginning in a comic fashion, the story develops into a touching tale of love, as Adam and Eve grow old together. We see how their initial squabbling subsides into utter devotion, as each comes to realize how meaningless life is without the other. This segment also neatly hints at Twain's own life, and his relationship with his wife. Few family films (with Pixar's Up being a notable exception) have come so close to capturing our need for companionship to such great effect.
Aesthetically speaking, The Adventures Of Mark Twain holds up remarkably well. The Claymation technique, trademarked by Vinton in the States, shows itself to be capable of matching pretty much anything this newfangled CGI can muster, and is seemingly limited only by the imagination and skill of the artists working on the film -- both of which are present in abundance.
If I were to find fault with The Adventures Of Mark Twain, it would be with the tonal shifts that occur throughout the movie. As much by design as anything else the film moves from rip-roaring adventure to introspective melodrama within the blink of an eye. Apart from being a little disorienting -- meaning the adventure to find Halley's Comet is delivered in a piecemeal fashion -- it can render certain sequences a little cold, as the emotion of the pieces isn't given the time to really take hold.
The Blu-ray release of The Adventures Of Mark Twain features a very good 1.85:1 1080P transfer. The bright picture is sharp, with excellent levels of detail allied to vivid colors and deep black levels. There is a fine layer of grain evident, which never becomes distracting, while damage to the print is minimal. In short, it looks pretty darn good. The DTS-HD Master Audio track features clear dialogue, though audio levels are occasionally inconsistent.
The highlight of the extras is undoubtedly Vinton's commentary track. Vinton provides detailed information on both the technical aspects of the film -- often explaining how certain shots were achieved -- and an insight into Twain's work, offering an interpretation of each of the stories (thanks to a great knowledge of Twain) and the reasons for its inclusion in the movie. "The Music Of Mark Twain" provides the viewer with the chance to listen to the film's score independently of the movie, and is broken up by scene. Next up are a series of "Crew Interviews," which take in everyone from character designers to animators. Clocking in at 54 minutes, this is no mere fluff piece, and acts as an excellent companion to Vinton's commentary track. A "Stills Gallery" is self-explanatory, but noteworthy for its inclusion of behind-the-scenes shots. "The Story Of Claymation and The Adventures Of Mark Twain" offers a 16-minute look at the history of Claymation. Though short, it contains enough information for a good oversight of the genre, ensuring to note the key milestones. A "Behind The Scenes Featurette" (6 minutes) is a short look at each element of the film, from character construction to voice recording. Finally, the film's theatrical trailer is included.
The Adventures Of Mark Twain may have flopped at the box office, and spent the last twenty-five years in cinematic oblivion, but that should not stop you purchasing this disc. Even putting aside Eureka's fantastic package of extra features and remarkable transfer, this is a film no fan of animation should be without.
Review content copyright © 2011 Paul Pritchard; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Eureka Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Not Rated