There's something intrinsically wonderful about Claymation. Will Vinton was a master at using the strengths of the medium to tell energetic stories. 'The Adventures of Mark Twain' was made in 1985. It built a cult following as children like myself watched it again and again. Now the nostalgia is built in and there's no way for me not to like it.
The funny thing is, after revisiting it, I realized that there were some pretty traumatizing sequences in that movie. Sure, the part where Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer meet the devil is really creepy, but the part where Injun Joe jumps out with his knife is pants-crappingly terrifying. Scary as it might be, 'The Adventures of Mark Twain' holds many majestic teachings from the prolific writer.
The magic starts as Twain's own characters, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Becky Thatcher, join him on his airship to go exploring. The ship resembles something Doc Brown might make if he had access to a dirigible. It's full of more gadgets and gizmos than one could possibly fathom. Their journey is one of learning and parables.
Twain leads the kids on all sorts of adventures, as they learn valuable lessons about life. There's a story about a man and his amazing jumping frog; a retelling of the story of Adam and Eve, only with Twain's wicked sense of humor; there's a part where the children meet the devil and find out the hard way how the devil feels about humans; and a story about a man trying to get into heaven only it's the wrong one.
Whether it's a warning against greed, pessimism, arrogance, or religious fundamentalism Twain has a story for it. Vinton weaves in Twain's best teachings and sayings as he pilots the kids through the sky on his wacky contraption of an airship.
The retelling of Adam and Eve with Twain's irreverent humor is, for me, the most enjoyable part of the movie. Instead of focusing on the stuff we know from the Bible, the story instead calls attention to the problems that the first man and woman must have had. Like men and women throughout time, Adam and Eve had their share of problems. They spend time trying to figure each other out. Adam whines about the differences in Eve, while Eve tries to understand Adam. Seeing these fabled figures in such a different context is both interesting and exciting.
I must also laud Vinton's use of Claymation. At the beginning I mentioned how much I love the medium, but there's a style and quality to the Claymation used here that goes unmatched. It's a little cartoony, off-kilter one might say, but it's imaginative and beautiful. There is a sequence where books and shelves melt away, forming trees and animals. It's a sequence that computer animation, with all its technical wizardry, wouldn't quite be able to match. These figures are detailed and alive. When I was a child Claymation amazed me, it still does.
If you're looking for an off-beat film that kids and parents will like, then you should give 'The Adventures of Mark Twain' a chance. With the wide variety of stories told by the famous storyteller you will be able to find something for anyone. It's still as magical as it was in 1985.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This release from Magnolia comes titled as a Collector's Edition. It contains one 50GB Blu-ray Disc. It's housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase and is region free.
Despite its age, the 1080p transfer for 'The Adventures of Mark Twain' is a very strong animated title. The transfer does show signs of wear and tear, blips and flecks pop up on occasion, but for the most part this is a very detailed look at a movie that I only ever watched on a crappy VHS. So, needless to say, this is quite an upgrade.
Detail in the clay is superb. Every line, every smudge, and even the fingerprints of the animators are visible. The tangible texture of the clay is full of unending detail, which creates that sense of wonder I spoke about before.
Barring the few soft shots and the noticeable age damage to the source, this is a very solid transfer for a movie from 1985. Banding, aliasing, and artifacting are nowhere to be seen either. There are some sequences where the airship is flying through space where the green screen technology of the day wasn't as good as it is now, but that's nothing to fault the presentation for. Truth be told, I was surprised how good this ended up looking. I'm not complaining.
The release has been given a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. The solidness of this release continues on with its audio. Even though this is simply a stereo track it's still a very well-produced lossless one.
Dialogue is always clear and the directionality of the stereo track give the movie a nice audio depth. Lacking a sub-woofer, the mix still ends up producing quite a bit of low-end sonics. Not enough to rumble the foundation, but just enough to let you feel that there's some power there.
While I would've liked to see a fully realized 5.1 lossless track – since there are quite a few parts in the movie that seem like they would benefit from surround sound – this lossless 2.0 track does quite nicely indeed.
Revisiting 'The Adventures of Mark Twain' is a real treat, especially if it's been a decade or two since you last saw it. It'd been quite a while for me, but once I popped it in and saw that first story about the jumping frogs play out in front of me, I remembered the movie instantly. It's great to see that it's received a caring video transfer along with a worthy audio mix to boot. On top of all that there is actually a really well-rounded special features package included here. This release is recommended.