Judge Paul Pritchard learns never to judge a book—or a DVD—by its cover.
Heroic mice and dancing frogs are the order of the day, in this latest release from First Run Features.
Generally speaking, Abel's Island/The Story of the Dancing Frog isn't typical of my viewing habits; my bread and butter is action movies, horror, and mind-bending oddities that make me feel far smarter than I actually am. So what it was that inspired me to request this DVD, I cannot say; I guess it just looked like something a little different. When the disc arrived with its rather uninspiring cover, it went straight to the bottom of my viewing pile; my intention was to view it only once everything else on my list had been reviewed. Eventually, the time came to finally view the disc, and the funniest thing happened. Not only did I find myself enjoying what I was seeing, I became enraptured by it.
Abel's Island, based on the children's novel by William Steig (whose book Shrek! was adapted into the hit movie Shrek), tells the story of a mouse named Ablard Hassan de Chirico Flint or Abel to his friends. While enjoying a particularly pleasant picnic with his wife Amanda, Abel is caught in a freak storm and separated from his wife. Swept away by strong winds, Abel finds himself stranded on an apparently deserted island, with only himself for company.
As time moves on, Abel's efforts to escape the island are subdued, and his attempts to make his life bearable on the island begin. To this end, Abel creates replicas of his loved ones from the clay he discovers on the island. Through practice he becomes quite proficient at sculpting these statues and often talks to them, expressing his feelings of loss and loneliness.
Voiced by Tim Curry, Abel is a wonderfully engaging character. At the beginning, it's almost impossible to imagine that this scruffily drawn (yet quite dapper) mouse will somehow tug on your heartstrings, and his adventure will capture your imagination so. How the writers, animators, and voice talent have managed to embed so much tenderness and warmth into such a short film is beyond me. Abel's journey is an emotional experience and his sense of loss quite palpable. The dangers he faces, whether it be fighting for his life or the perilous journey home he undertakes, had me glued to the screen, frequently amazed at the sheer depth of such a short film.
With Abel's Island setting such a high benchmark, I expected The Story of the Dancing Frog to suffer by comparison. As with most assumptions I had made with this release, I was proved wrong…again.
Based upon the book of the same name, which was written and illustrated by Quentin Blake, The Story of the Dancing Frog tells the story of Gertrude, a widow following her husband's death, whose life is changed the day she discovers George, the dancing frog. Initially keeping George for her own pleasure, Gertrude eventually decides to put him on stage; and a life in showbiz beckons.
Traveling the world, George becomes a star wherever he goes, while the friendship between these two unlikely accomplices grows. During their travels, Gertrude makes the acquaintance of an English lord, who asks for her hand in marriage, with the proviso that she leaves behind her days of touring with George.
Spanning decades, which is quite a considerable feat considering the film's 25-minute running time, The Story of the Dancing Frog, like Abel's Island before it, punches well above its weight. The friendship between George and Gertrude, as unorthodox as it is, is surprisingly touching, resulting in a closing sequence that offers a strange beauty many bigger releases could only dream of achieving.
Both films share many traits. Both are infused with plenty of heart, and contain characters that are far deeper and richer than there 2D origins. I cannot find a bad word to say about either film; the writing, coupled with the simplistic, yet undeniably lovely artwork, makes Abel's Island/The Story of the Dancing Frog an unexpected joy.
My only reservation in recommending this release is whether today's children are going to embrace something that so lacks action or big exciting set pieces. The animation style, which is quite limited, may struggle to appeal to youngsters brought up on CGI-enhanced cartoon series. Whether or not this proves to be the case, it's impossible for me to pass anything other than a not guilty verdict. Give it a try; if the kids aren't prepared to give it a chance, you may just end up enjoying it yourself.
A short, but informative making-of, is the highlight of a limited set of extras. The disc's audio and video are, while far from terrible, workmanlike at best, with the picture lacking any real sparkle.
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