Judge Gordon Sullivan lives in a medieval world with strange characters...or just a weird neighborhood.
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I admit to knowing nothing of Dragon Hunters when this disc hit my door, but after some quick research I discovered that it's a feature film based on a French animated series, although the film appears to be in a different timeline. Knowing very little about either the series or the film, my expectations going in were unusually low. I'm happy to report that Dragon Hunters is an above-average animated film with a fairly strong plot and absolutely gorgeous visuals.
Facts of the Case
On a strange planet where gravity seems to apply only selectively and humanity lives in a medieval world with strange creatures, Lord Arnold is awaiting the return of the World-Gobbler as he hopes to find knights to defeat it. However, his niece Zoe (Mary Matilyn Mouser, Me, Eloise) isn't content to wait for the World-Gobbler to show up. Instead, she enlists the help of two wandering dragon hunters, Lian-Chu (Forest Whitaker, Panic Room) and Gwizdo (The Boondocks) to help her find and defeat the World-Gobbler.
Obviously, Dragon Hunters has a fairly trite quest plot at its center. Zoe is the typical young female protagonist who's eager to have adventures and prove herself to the world. Lian-chu is the big bruiser who really hides a big heart (he even knits!), while Gwizdo is the money obsessed little guy who appears to be all about getting paid but also really has a big heart. They even have a little fanged sidekick for added cuteness. Their character designs are even tired, with Zoe's big eyes, Lian-chu's huge arms and tiny legs, and Gwizdo's shifty gaze.
Usually, this combo would be enough to make me write the film off as another in a tired line of medieval quest films, but all qualms go out the window thanks to the brilliant look and direction of the world of Dragon Hunters. In fact, the character designs are the only cliché thing about the art in this film; pretty much everything else is weird and new. I usually think the medieval thing is done to death, but Dragon Hunters provides some impressive locations including fortresses and villages. Then, there's the bizarre behavior of gravity in this world. Some things float, like mini-worlds, and our heroes can manipulate them in flight. This makes fight scenes all the more interesting as perspective can shift at a moment's notice. With that said, the most impressive thing about the film by far (not surprising, given its name), are the designs for the dragons. From lightning-charged little lizards to the giant, skeletal World-Gobbler, the bad guys of this film are impressive.
While many animated films would spend the majority of their time on the big set pieces (like the World-Gobbler showdown), Dragon Hunters shows obvious attention to detail throughout. The heroic trio travels through a number of differing locations, including forests, a floating village, and the grasslands surrounding Lord Arnold's castle. All show tremendous attention to detail, and it's obvious creator Arthur Qwak put a lot of effort into creating an entire world for his Dragon Hunters stories.
I'm not generally a fan of films that have this great a disparity between the quality of the story and the quality of the presentation, but the story of Dragon Hunters is just good enough (thanks to some quirky twists, like Lian-chu's knitting) to give the visuals something to hang onto.
In the Blu-ray department, Dragon Hunters gets all the quality its visuals deserve. This is a tremendous transfer that looks as close to perfect as anything I've seen in the format. I didn't detect a single moment of compression or source problems, and everything looks clear and detailed. The film's 3-D animation looks absolutely gorgeous, and this will probably be a disc I reach for to show off the capabilities of my Blu-ray player. The audio is just about as good, although the louder moments where occasionally overpowering.
For extras we get an interview with Forest Whitaker discussing his involvement with the film, as well as a biography of the characters and a gallery of the dragons. There's also a featurette on the world of Dragon Hunters.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I really, really wish that Dragon Hunters had a story to equal the visuals. As it is, the film feels a little bit too much like it's jumping from one set piece to another. The set pieces are undeniably impressive, but the episodic feel seems to betray the film's television roots. There's definitely room for a sequel, and I hope Qwak and crew can find a worthy story now that the origin stuff is out of the way.
Dragon Hunters may have a cute girl on the cover and a PG rating, but parents should be warned that this film gets a little intense. Part of it is the world itself, which is a bit strange and daunting. Also, some of the fights get a bit scary, especially against the one against the World-Gobbler. It shouldn't be enough to keep kids away, but the film certainly earns its "parental guidance suggested" label.
Dragon Hunters is a fantastically animated film wrapped around a rather tired quest story. It's highly recommend for those who want to see what Blu-ray is capable of in the detail and texture department, and also for fans of medieval, dragon-based fantasy. Fans of the show are obviously going to want to track this down, even if it departs from those storylines, while those who are looking for something non-Disney that's still animated should give the disc a rental.
For sheer visual beauty alone, Dragon Hunters is not guilty.
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