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Monday, January 11, 2010


When Mel Brooks' sci-fi spoof SPACEBALLS came out way back in the 80s, I only watched it once because it wasn't all that funny to me compared to his previous films, and I didn't like it very much. The same could be said for Mel Brooks' SPACEBALLS: THE TOTALLY WARPED ANIMATED ADVENTURES! (2008), only with even more emphasis on "not funny" and "didn't like." As low comedy, the laughs just aren't there, and as an exercise in shock value (cartoon characters saying and doing very crude things) much of it is enough to embarrass even John Kricfalusi.

As in the original film, Mel plays (that is, voices) the evil President Skroob of the planet Moron. Together with his diminutive henchman Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis in the movie, Dee Bradley Baker here), Skroob comes up with one dastardly scheme after another for ruling the universe, but is thwarted every time by interplanetary good guy Lone Starr (Rino Romano) and his canine co-pilot Barf (Tino Insana), who are patterned after STAR WARS' Han Solo and Chewbacca. Bill Pullman and the late John Candy are missing from these roles, but Daphne Zuniga and Joan Rivers are back as the ever-in-peril Princess Vespa and her faithful protocol droid Dot Matrix, who is like a female C3PO. Brooks also supplies the voice for Yogurt, a Yiddish Yoda who aids Lone Starr in using "The Schwartz" to battle evil.

The artwork for the series is pretty good--at times resembling a moving Bill "Zippy the Pinhead" Griffith comic--while the animation is done via digital manipulation a la "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." This doesn't quite compliment the series' BLAZING SADDLES-style humor which depends so much on performance to put it across, especially considering that much of the voice work here is less than stellar.

Brooks tries his best to liven up the stale, smut-filled dialogue he has to work with but the medium is simply too constricting and makes him sound stilted. His "Yogurt" character grows especially tiresome with its endless string of Jewish jokes, and the attempts at topical humor mostly fall flat (Yogurt's nagging wife Yenta chides him for eating imitation shellfish: "Kosher-shmosher! Still gives you more gas than Dubai.") The "adult" nature of the show's humor manifests itself mainly in a plethora of boobs, barf, blow-up dolls, overt sexual sight gags, single entendres, and fart jokes.

Four of the series' thirteen episodes are on hand here, and can be viewed either seperately or combined into a "feature" with new interlocking segments in the form of a telethon-slash-infomercial for President Skroob's new book, "The Moron's Guide to Conquering the Universe and Beyond." The first episode, "Outbreak", concerns Skroob and Dark Helmet's plan to spread Ebola and Ecoli throughout the galaxy with a new soft drink called Ecola. When all shipments of the tainted cola are accidentally sent to their own planet Moron, they must call upon Lone Starr and Barf to save the day as the entire infected population begins to drown in its own barf.

There's a big barf sequence with a random fart-joke topper that provides a few laughs. We also get some pretty groan-inducing lines such as a conversation about "moving the bowels" of the ship, Dark Helmet's "I'm getting a bad case of deja-voodoo!", and Skroob announcing "I can see your Schwartz is as firm as ever, but it's no match for mine!" A sequence showing Dark Helmet trying to fit his head into the tight folds of a tent entrance is a prime example of the kind of anatomical visual humor this series has to offer.

"The Skroobinator" pokes fun at a certain Arnold flick (along with BACK TO THE FUTURE) with Skroob scheming to go back in time to the 1980s and kill Lone Starr's great-great-great-etc-grandmother. The one redeeming feature of this episode is a pretty good chase sequence although the "hog" joke might make you wince. In "Deep Ship", Skroob tricks Princess Vespa into his clutches by luring her and Dot Matrix onto an interplanetary cruise ship to the planet Areola (where things tend to get "a bit nippy"), making way for a string of clunky gags based on TITANIC and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. Not surprisingly, the ship eventually gets sucked into the Galaxy of Bad Gas, prompting Skroob to announce to us: "Lucky for you this isn't Smell-o-Vision!"

"Grand Theft Starship" wraps things up with Lone Starr's videogame obsession resulting in him and Princess Vespa being sucked into the titular game and forced to play for their lives. Skroob and Dark Helmet get into the act with a scheme to take over videogame land, and with Yogurt's help Barf must enter the game MATRIX-style and save his pals. Gamers might appreciate the myriad of references to everything from Tetris to Super Mario Brothers to (of course) Grand Theft Auto, with other gags aimed at the likes of THE MATRIX, TRON, and THE ROAD WARRIOR.

The DVD from MGM and Fox Home Entertainment is 1.33:1 full-screen with Dolby Digital stereo and English soundtrack and captions. Besides the four episodes, there are the five brief connecting segments mentioned previously, plus an additional closer entitled "One More Goodie."

SPACEBALLS: THE TOTALLY WARPED ANIMATED ADVENTURES! would probably be dandy entertainment for little kids if it weren't packed to the gills with bouncing boobs, bawdy (and oddly old-fashioned) burlesque humor, and resounding farts. As a cartoon aimed at adults, however, it wouldn't last long on Adult Swim alongside far superior shows of its kind such as "Aqua Teen Hunger Force", "Futurama", and "Sealab 2021." Back to the drawing board, Mel!


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