It has been a long time coming since the CGI animated adaptation of writer Phil Hester and artist Andy Kuhn’s comic series “Firebreather”. The series had garnered a small following probably because it can easily be related to by its key target audience. “Firebreather” made its debut in Cartoon Network last Thanksgiving eve and I have no idea why it took me this long to review it. Well, it is just that I do not review features that I haven‘t finished and upon its debut I was busy with something else; so I had to make time to watch the whole thing.
This made-for-TV animated movie produced by Cartoon Network carries the tone and mood of the source material. It features dragons, big gunships and advance technology all conveniently wrapped around the staples of fantasy films and high school drama. I suppose I am not the show‘s key demographic, but I still found the movie to be a good diversion. Director Peter Chung seems aimed at capturing the look of Kuhn‘s art style as close as possible; this is a good approach since I am certain that much of its viewers would be the comic series’ fans.
Duncan (Jesse Head) is 16 year old with issues. It isn’t easy being him. His mother (voiced by Dana Delaney) wants him to stay out of trouble and keep a low profile while his father (a 120 foot Godzilla-like monster) wants Duncan to prepare for the day that he eventually ascends the throne of the Kaiju and to follow his footsteps. Duncan is caught between two worlds. He wants to be human but it seems like he may not belong. On another hand, he can follow his father’s footsteps and train to be the ruler of the Kaiju. He must choose which path to take, and there is the beautiful Jenna (Amy Davidson) who catches his eye.
The story of “Firebreather” is all formula but it is fitting to its intended audience. Forget the “hows” or the “whys”, the story doesn’t give much detail, actually I believe that to truly appreciate the movie, one has to have a background on the source material since most of its details aren‘t fully fleshed out. Much of the script relies upon the knowledge of the viewer and assumes that anyone watching this movie have read the comic. Reasons such as why and how things are the way they were would be left to the viewer's imagination. Quite franjly, I still wonder (I can guess) how Duncan's Mom and Dad got together because of the HUGE SIZE difference; it was never thoroughly explained in the film or how the MEGTAF made the deal to watch him progress; some areas did feel that it came from left field. To compenate the direction goes for high energy pacing to keep the viewer on his toes; it works in some ways since the movie leads you to one action scene to another, there are even some wild doses of humor.
Now don’t take the movie's lack of solid characterization and developemnt, as a big negative comment, the movie is very accessible even to those without knowledge of the comic. After all, who wouldn’t be able to relate to high school issues? We’ve all been there, as well as one’s development into puberty. Duncan is not your normal teen, he likes eating coal instead of pizza, he has orange skin with a scaly exterior, he is incredibly fast and agile and his strength far exceeds those of a normal human. Seems like the more he gets into puberty, the more powerful Duncan becomes. There was a real funny scene when he was chased by bullies and the evening of the dance was very curious.
Aside from his parents’ tendency to become either over-protective and would like Duncan to do them proud, “Firebreather” is a movie about choices. Like any other teen, he needs to make his own choice but again, the older he becomes, the more complicated his life seems to get. It also touches on themes of being “different” and “needing to belong“ and the struggles that come from within. On the fantasy side, Duncan is the heir apparent to Belloc’s (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson) throne and some Kaiju are not happy with this. Seems like the movie is trying to express the fear of someone different and not understood. Kaiju fight his natural instinct to become ruthless and heartless, he tries his best to be human and refrains from taking any life. There is a complex subtext somewhere here, but I guess the direction didn’t want the movie to become too dark that it may alienate its target audience.
I did like the interesting connection between Duncan, Jenna and his two newfound friends Ken Rogers (Dante Basco) and Isabel (Tia Texada). The voice acting is pretty good for the most part as the movie is cast with some heavy hitters. The dialogue is all about puberty jokes and some budding romance on some angles. They’re all there for fun, but like I said I just wasn’t its target audience. It is a movie made for kids and teens after all; for me it feels rather juvenile.
I have mixed feelings about the animation. It seems to be lacking in depth and texture but I guess it fit the movie’s mood and tone. The animation does have pretty good facial expressions (it resembles the work in “Clone Wars”) and some features almost look photo-realistic (Jenna is so sexy), while they look like “clay-mation“ on some parts. The feature’s main draw would be the action scenes since there are a lot of them. From the halls of his school to the mountains of the Kaiju, Duncan seems to find conflict and the more he gets provoked and coerced into a fight, the more he becomes more comfortable with his abilities. Duncan also exhibits the qualities of a shape-shifter as he can look mostly human during his school days but can have a durable body that is mostly resistant to injury. Oh, Duncan can also breathe fire. The action sequences were good but there were times that there was just too much going on that it is hard to tell who is winning.
I guess while I wasn’t that impressed with “Firebreather”, I do appreciate its intentions. It serves as an introduction or pilot to an upcoming mini-series called “Holmgang” set to be released by 2011. The movie is good display of tricky CGI-work and fun action sequences, and the plot was just made to revolve around simple formula. Devices and elements were left underdeveloped but I suppose this is all for teen entertainment. I guess I can get behind “Firebreather”, it was quite decent for what it was intended to be; fans of the source material will have a ball.
RENTAL [3- Out of 5 Stars]
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