Love or hate their work, Phase 4 films is really doing all they can to establish themselves as a player in the Grade B computer animated feature film segment. Of course you really can’t fault them for understanding that it takes budgets so inflated even our government would blush to attempt to take on Pixar, DreamWorks, Sony Image Works and Bluesky Studios directly; the trouble is their technique of locating foreign made CG films, slapping English over the original dialog track and releasing said dub on DVD generally leaves a lot to be desired too!
Enter 2011’s Luke and Lucy the Texas Rangers; a shining (or maybe glaring) example of this process that likely sailed right under your radar.
The film’s original title was Suske en Wiske: De Texas Rakkers, which translates to Spike and Suzy: The Texas Rangers in English. Where “Luke & Lucy” came from is anybody’s guess. Released theatrically in July 2009 in Belgium, it was the first in a projected 13-animated film run based on the Belgian comic book characters (published in English as Spike and Suzy and sometimes Willy and Wanda). Confused yet? Don’t be. All you need to know is Phase 4 brought this Belgian piece to the US, redid the vocals and here we are.
About the biggest problem with Phase 4’s take on the material is that it does show promise; something about 99% of films created by this process lack. The English dub actually works pretty well with the general timing of the piece and even matches mouth flaps fairly successfully.
The trouble is there is some foreign weirdness that no amount of dubbing can make logical. The core of the story centers on an evil metallic cowboy named Jim Parasite who, by use of powder, has the ability to shrink human beings down to action figure proportions. And this is precisely what he does to the entire squad of Texas Rangers on his tail at the onset of the film. He then proceeds to store the shrunken cops in empty whiskey bottles that he has arranged neatly on a shelf in his lair. If this sounds a bit askew to you, rest assured, it gets much more bizarre from here.
The viewer is then transported to modern day Boston where the titular sibling duo (and a host of truly bizarre family & friends) receive word of the strange happenings going on in Texas via an alcoholic neighbor who opens up a case of what he believes to be ordinary whiskey only to discover a miniaturized human contained within one of the bottles. At this point in the film you can’t help but come to the horrible realization that all of this is supposedly taking place in modern day Texas!
That’s right: dusty streets outside the saloon, intermittent tumble weeds, horse-mounted rangers with six shooters and duals at high noon are all apparently daily life in Texas circa 2009 according to this film yet in Boston our cast is playing video games, talking on cell phones… Perhaps it’s best to not even ponder such idiosyncrasies lest we have nothing left to talk about.
Once the Boston gang set forth to Texas to solve this strange mystery, we are treated to all sorts of inappropriate behavior- children impersonating police officers, holding people at gunpoint to obtain information, a man closing himself in a refrigerator to have an uninterrupted snack, the sale of alcohol to minors and on and on. That reminds me, the PG rating this film wears certainly isn’t just there for decoration. The language alone earns the rating thanks to multiple instances of repeated cussing all centered around the word “damn”. This is especially dumbfounding considering the ENTIRE dialog track was dubbed into English for the North American market! They couldn’t have opted for “darn” or “dang” considering this thing’s supposed to be for kids and all?
Anyway, back to the plot… the film works off the mystery element and, truth be told, could probably give 2011’s Adventures of Tintin (Steven Spielberg) a run for the money were it not for the goofiness. In a strange way, there is a definite connection between the two films (that must be mostly coincidental considering Luke and Lucy was actually released back in 2009 after multiple years of development). The look of the character models, the abnormally intelligent yet silent dog, the mystery element that leads the young antagonist(s) into far away lands, the pacing that makes the movies feel at least three-times longer than their actual runtimes, it’s all present in both.
However, where the paths diverge comes down to some odd choices that will be sure to offend even the most liberal of households in the case of Luke and Lucy. The tragedy here is that the visuals are well above average, especially in Blu/ high definition. Textures are rich, models are well animated, and even the English vocal cast does a surprisingly nice job with the dialog (save for the cussing mentioned above). Considering what the material itself presents, the finished product is unexpectedly coherent.
If you’ve exhausted the endless stream of quality CG entertainment coming out of the Grade A studios and feel a few slightly inappropriate words coupled to a lot of inappropriate behavior and a plot that borders on utter madness are just what you’ve been missing, Luke and Lucy the Texas Rangers is a dream come true.
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About the reviewer
Jason Rider (AKA OneNeo on Amazon.com) is the author of the successful children's fantasy novel series The Uncommon Adventures of Tucker O'Doyle from Bellissima Publishing. … more