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Fantastic Four - The Animated Series

voice cast: Beau Weaver, Lori Alan, Chuck McCann, Brian Austin Green, and Quinton Flynn

director: Tom Tartaranowicz

574 minutes (unrated) 1994-5
Buena Vista DVD Region 1 rental / retail

RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Noell Wolfgram Evans
It's easy to forget the impact that The Fantastic Four had on popular culture when they debuted in 1961. That's because so many superheroes, adventure shows, movies, cartoons and others have copied their spirit, angst and fun to such an extent that to see the group now, you're seeing them as part of this larger collective instead of as singular instigators.

It's also hard to imagine because of the way that non-comic fans have been exposed to this groundbreaking superhero team. Through dredge like 2005's big screen 'adventure' to the kitschy wonderment of the 1967 animated series, the F4 (Mr Fantastic, Sue Storm, The Thing and The Human Torch) have had trouble transcending the comic page. In nearly every endeavour, when they step out of the comic panel they end up trapped by the superhero conventions that they helped to create. Instead of originality and excitement, they end up providing only stock character interaction and standard adventures.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the animated series that aired from 1994 to 1995 and has recently been released as a four-disc DVD set. The problem with the show is the same problem that so much bad entertainment has, the story. This series is laced with stories that are bland and unexciting. There's a certain formulaic approach to the adventures that takes away the human aspect of the group and reduces them to this straight down the middle of the line, 'standard' animation team. Together, the 26 half-hour adventures presented here fail to capture the pure essence of the heroes. Instead of being exciting and unique each half-hour gives off an, 'eh, ok' reaction.

The series was created by the Marvel Films Animation studio and was originally produced as a part of The Marvel Action Hour - a one-hour animation block that also offered an Iron Man adventure. That fact that Marvel (from where the comicbook originated) actually produced this TV show makes its shortcomings all the more surprising, and sad. As far as the animation of this series, the best thing that can be said is that it's competent. Really the images lack originality, there's no character to the work. Not that the series should have been some UPA stylised production, but it would have been nice if it didn't look like every other cartoon being produced at that time either. On top of the uninspired look, the scenes lack the energy and freshness that are hallmarks of the comics. (As an affirmation as to how far away from the true spirit of the group the show was, in an episode of The Fantastic Four comicbook published at the time the show was being broadcast, two characters spend a page mocking the series.)

The Fantastic Four are known as much for their family dynamic and personal interaction between the key members of the group as they are for their super-heroism. This sort of thing works perfectly in the limited space of a comic and could work to good effect in other mediums, in the right hands (witness Spider-Man for example). For this series though, the producers weren't really sure how to make that transition so rather than take a risk and stay true to the source material they went more Dynasty meets MacGyver. The personal interaction that created fans and held them loyal was replaced with overblown dialogue and ham-fisted scenarios. The results are an uninteresting programme that doesn't absorb you as much as move past your eyes.

The bonus materials in this set consist of episode introductions and random thoughts by Stan Lee, one of the creators of The Fantastic Four. Many of these actually preceded the show during its initial run. They're interesting sure, but after a while enough's enough. It would have been great to see some features on the group's influence, their history, and their place in popular culture. But then again to do this would in many ways force the series producers to admit how far from the spirit of the group this series is.

The extras on this DVD boxset are as lacking as the series itself. They include only episode introductions and 'soapboxes' from Marvel stalwart Stan Lee (who helped bring the group to life in 1961). The segments can be informative and sometimes amusing, but like any proud parent's boasting, they can also be a little long.

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