In February of 2010, the Marvel Animated Features Blu-ray release of 'Planet Hulk' contained a quick teaser for the next title in the series: 'Thor: Tales of Asgard.' That...was some time ago. The theatrical release of 'Thor' seems to be the cause of this delay, and it makes perfect sense to try to build anticipation for the big budgeted action film by making the cartoon an unofficial lead-in, to get people psyched up for the character. Of course, this would be a gamble if the cartoon were to be as awful as 'The Invincible Iron Man.'
Taking the norse god and comic book legend and translating him to his formative years, before he had his hands on the hammer Mjolnir, 'Thor: Tales of Asgard' isn't so much an origin story as it is just a tale of a young hero, who would go on to become a greater, iconic figure. With a spoiled Thor chomping at the bit for a taste of real action, disobeying a direct order from his father Odin doesn't seem like much of a stretch. Stowing away with his brother Loki, aboard the ship of the Warriors Three, in search of the legendary Lost Sword of Surtur. The young Thor accidentally violates a peace treaty, though, and puts all of Asgard in danger.
'Thor: Tales of Asgard' is not the best, nor the worst feature in this line of animated movies from Marvel. 'Next Avengers' already had a teen Thor-like character, his "daughter," so the territory ventured here is hardly blasphemous to series fans. What it is, though, is a good introduction to the character, especially for those unaware and interested due to the hype surrounding the Branagh directed feature. We see a character come full circle in a limited period of time, going from a naive, untalented, cocky, spoiled brat into a responsible, daring, trusting hero who puts everything on the line. Better still, the transition is believable, as throughout the movie we see the gradual progression, the life changing events and circumstances.
While I've never been a big fan of the Thor franchise, mostly due to what I feel is an inaccessible main character and a legion of less than interesting villains (save for the iconic Loki and Enchantress foes), I will say that this feature is very enjoyable, for fans and non-fans alike. Sure, I wish that we saw less of Sif, and more of Amora and especially Loki, but the balance between the Warriors Three and Thor in the development of the plot is damn near perfect. With such an iconic villain, Thor's brother no less, I would have thought we'd see a progression from neutrality to evil, much like see see the opposite of with Thor himself as the film wears on, but it does not happen. Instead, it's last minute, out of nowhere character deviation that sets Loki down the path of evil here, and the god of mischief just doesn't seem all that mischievous because of it, with no plotting, no schemes, just cowering.
The animation itself is quite good, easily besting that found in the majority of the Marvel Animated Features lineup. Backgrounds and settings are superb, while character designs are quite sound, with no hulked up, ridiculously top heavy stereotypical cartoon males (or females) making a mockery out of anatomy. The voice acting, though pretty damn good as a whole, is a tad awkward, as Thor's voice, provided by Matthew Wolf, does not seem to match up with the age shown for the character, as he's too prim and proper (the writing's fault) and too authoritative and powerful (the performer's and director's faults).
'Thor: Tales of Asgard' does tell a great story, though, with the Frost Giants of Jotunheim making for good, believable, powerful villains, rather than just norse god fodder. The quest for the legendary sword opens up a history book of information on the fictional realm, which is very enjoyable, and the continued conflicts of the Asgardian races are most certainly interesting enough to delve into once the feature is over. The film creates a good balance of seriousness and the occasional comic relief to keep the film buoyant, and fight sequences are all so very different that they never get boring. While it isn't the best animated film to come from Marvel, it is most certainly a fitting, and pretty damn good short introduction to a character sure to make some serious box office bank in coming months.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Thor: Tales of Asgard' hits Blu-ray via Lionsgate with a Region A locked BD25 disc, with a bonus DVD of the film making this a combo pack. While there are no pre-menu trailers on the DVD, there are three on the Blu-ray that must be skipped individually. There is a slipcover that mimics the cover art on first pressings, and as 'Planet Hulk' and 'Hulk Vs.' showed, they tend to be in short supply. Pre-menu, there are three trailers, for 'Hulk Vs,' 'Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow,' and 'Ultimate Avengers 2.' They cannot be skipped as a whole, just one at a time.
Past entries in the Marvel Animated Features line have disappointed me when it came to their video presentations. Some have overloaded discs with extra content at the expense of video compression. With 'Thor: Tales of Asgard,' the new bar has been set for this particular line, as the picture is damn near flawless. With a 1080p, 1.78:1 framed AVC MPEG-4 encode, this is 77 minutes worth of visual awesome.
At first, I found myself distracted by the odd character outlines, with flesh having a weird brown outline and everything else sporting a normal black line, as the brown sometimes was not even and looked somewhat ugly, particularly in eyes, which had both colors. As the film rode on, though, I realized my biggest complaint about the video was something as silly as an aesthetic choice in the production of the cartoon, so that really left an impression. Banding is damn near non-existent, with only a few questionable spots, which are often very minor, and aliasing only appears in a few awkward jaggy outlines that you have to nitpick to spot. Detail levels are superb for this type of animation, with crisp, bright, beautiful colors that can be quite impressive.
'Thor: Tales of Asgard' is a great looking disc, that easily rivals anything from the DC Universe series of Blu-rays.
While the DVD release of 'Thor: Tales of Asgard' only has a 5.1 track, the Blu-ray release boasts a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that...I really can't say I was all that impressed with. Bass levels are always too light for what is shown, not showing up often enough to make a difference. Rear speakers are surprisingly inactive, as are movement and localization effects, and are only really good for a few fight sequences. This feature does sport superb clarity and prioritization, and some nice high ends, but aside from that, I really wish this one could have been much more.
The second disc in this release is a retail, non-skimped DVD copy, which is pretty darn great, for the kids.
I didn't have much hope for 'Thor: Tales of Asgard.' The preview on 'Hulk Vs' was less than interesting, and the "child Thor" aspect did not seem to be one that would work. It also seemed too darned close to the 'Next Avengers' cartoon. Marvel Animated Features' newest film isn't bad by any means, though. The Blu-ray release has absolutely stunning video, solid audio, and some good extras. An easy recommendation!