This is one of those rare boxed sets that I had been savoring for quite some time. It turns out that I somehow managed to completely overlook this series when it was originally syndicated for broadcast television- probably on account of the DCAU’s Batman & Superman The Animated Series and Marvel’s X-Men, which ran at the same time.
To clear the air, I've always had a bit of difficulty with the Fantastic Four source material, feeling that it had aged much less gracefully than some of the other comic stories that were spawned around the same time (in some cases, even earlier).
I never fully grasped why the solar radiation that bombarded the spacecraft had affected each of the crewmembers' DNA in such diverse means. Mutations I can understand, especially in the realm of comics, but the net result of the exposure had absolutely nothing in common with how it affected a person seated a mere foot away. Add to this names like Mr. Fantastic and the Fantastic-car and it doesn't take long to realize that Marvel has their hands full in this cynical day and age with trying to represent a much more innocent era of human society. But I digress, this is comic animation after all so let’s put aside such technicalities and focus on the two-season boxed set at hand.
Regardless of how you view the team itself, the opening credits to the first season will recreate the group's origins through a cheesy pop jingle that will cause even the most diehard FF fans to question their devotion. Once the credits fade and the program begins, there is little in the way of an improvement to report. The plot execution and character development are simply terrible throughout the first two discs.
For whatever reason the animation is choppy and primitive paling even to its sister series, X-Men, which actually began a full two-years earlier. What's worse is that like Superfriends (which aired a full two decades earlier) the first season of the Fantastic Four is riddled with ridiculous dialogue and cliché sound effects. Many times characters will over-explain themselves to the audience with dialog in which they talk to themselves or villains who talk us through their world dominating schemes in step-by-step simplified detail. Forget guns and bullets, it’s all lasers and beams here. The story plots are sloppy and full of laughable situations. This isn't to suggest that it's impossible to sit through all thirteen episodes but be forewarned that the delivery here is best viewed with very low expectations.
Fortunately, discs 3 & 4 of the boxed set switch gears dramatically as the second (1995) season had gone through a complete retooling which included a new host of creative and development staff, improved animation, and even a new theme song. The animation itself was vastly improved to levels witnessed with other leading animated series' of the time. The character designs were also crafted to darker outfit motifs with more subtle voice work. The new opening credits are a vast improvement in their own right; providing a more epic feel to the whole concept. The show's writers were also wise to adapt plots right from the pages of the original Stan Lee/ Jack Kirby comics. Apparently the FF's originators knew well what worked and what didn't when laying out scenarios with their team.
The second season also does a nice job of incorporating a host of cameos in the form of both heroes and villains: Daredevil, Scarlet Spider, Ghostrider, The Hulk, and the X-Men all make appearances (just to name a few).
Sadly, however, is that this set comes to us from Buena Vista which immediately means a few nagging complaints. The first of which is that the set is basically completely devoid of features or extras. There are several-second intros read by Stan Lee himself before each episode but the effect is pretty lackluster in action. Other than that, zero, zip, zilch as far as extras are concerned. Also Buena Vista is known for its poor menu design. Fantastic Four is no exception with cobby navigation and a completely out of place sound score.
Finally paying nearly $45 to own this set doesn't earn us immunity from Disney's promotional efforts either as the set begins with some previews for other Disney films and DVDs (which thankfully can be skipped over with a well timed button press).
The episodes are presented in their original full-frame aspect ratio with no pixelation, edge enhancement, or other common transfer flaws. And like the video, the sound is crisp and clear, with the Dolby Digital 2.0 surround treatment to boot.
Overall this is a difficult series to rate. Season One earns a 2.5-star score, Season Two deserves at least a 4-star rating, and the set itself, although beautifully packaged, earns a solid 3 for lack of extras and substandard menu work. Included on this set are the following episodes:
The Origin of the Fantastic Four, Part One
The Origin of the Fantastic Four, Part Two
Incursion of the Skrulls
Now Comes the Sub-Mariner
The Silver Surfer & the Coming of Galactus, Part One
The Silver Surfer & the Coming of Galactus, Part Two
The Mask of Doom, Part One
The Mask of Doom, Part Two
The Mask of Doom, Part Three
The Silver Surfer and the Return of Galactus
Behold the Negative Zone
And a Blind Man Shall Lead Them
Inhumans Saga, Part One: And the Wind Cries Medusa
Inhumans Saga, Par Two: The Inhumans Among Us
Inhumans Saga, Part Three: Beware the Hidden Land
Worlds Within Worlds
To Battle the Living Planet
Prey of the Black Panther
When Calls Galactus
Nightmare in Green
Behold, a Distant Star
The Sentry Sinister
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