Posted: 09/26/2009

 

X-Men: The Animated Series Vol. 3 & 4

(1994-96)

by Jef Burnham



Now available from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment.


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In my review of the first two volumes of X-Men: The Animated Series, I discussed the series as a whole and its impact on subsequent animation and the children who grew up watching it. So to avoid redundancy and for the sake of brevity, we’ll cut right to the chase and talk about these DVDs in a little more depth. As a whole, the episodes collected in Volumes 3 and 4 are on par with those of the first two sets. The better episodes are some of the greatest in the series, and yet others are simply unwatchable.

The first two volumes featured the episodes in production order, maintaining the series’ continuity. The 28 episodes on the latest installments, however, are in order of airdate, which creates some continuity problems and, if watched in airdate order, makes the storyline feel clunky at best. So for Volumes 3 and 4, if you want to watch the episodes in the correct order, you have to get a list of episodes from Wikipedia and bounce around the DVDs.

There are again NO special features. This coupled with the deviation away from the intended episode production order shows how little effort Disney put into appeasing the fans. It seems unlikely to me that they couldn’t get a single person to do an interview. Maybe the very last set they release will blow everyone away with its treasure trove of interviews, retrospectives, and archival promotional material; but I’m guessing that won’t happen.

Since one can hardly review the bare-bones DVDs themselves, we’ll cover some of the highs and lows of this collection. A few episodes, including “Cold Comfort” and the two-part “Sanctuary,” suffer from a severe drop in the quality of animation, making them hard to stomach. However, the most unwatchable installments are the four parts of “The Dark Pheonix Saga.” The main reason for this is not animation, but the Dazzler and the Hellfire… I mean, Inner Circle Club? The voice work for Dazzler is unbearable; and Sebastian Shaw and the gang simply do not transfer to the screen well, serving only to muddle the tone of the series.

Some of the best episodes in the series are the time travel episodes included here. The two-part “One Man’s Worth” finds Bishop, his sister Shard, and an alternate-timeline Storm and Wolverine (who are, by the way, married) traveling back to 1959 in an attempt to prevent the assassination of Professor X by Nimrod. But the stakes in “One Man’s Worth” are trivial compared to those of the four-part “Beyond Good and Evil,” the epic, trans-temporal culmination of the X-Men’s previous encounters with Apocalypse. As Wolverine put it, “Every mutant on Earth seems to be in on this thing.” And he’s about right. Dozens of intermingling storylines spanning five thousand years go into the making of “Beyond Good and Evil.”

My personal favorite episode in these collections is “Nightcrawler,” the first appearance of the highly religious, blue, teleporting X-Man. The themes of the “Nightcrawler” episode deal heavily with religion and faith, particularly Wolverine’s long separation from the church and Nightcrawler’s attempts to impart upon him some monastic wisdom. Cartoons, even X-Men, which regularly deals with issues of racism and persecution, are rarely this deep.

Finally, some things to keep your eyes peeled for: There are brief appearances by Hulk, Black Panther, John Wayne and Brando’s Wild One (seriously) among others. Psylocke’s license plate curiously reads: THX 1138. Juggernaut punches a shark. Cyclops shoots some sort of broccoli with his eye beams. And in one of the most hilarious moments in X-Men history, Storm says in all her dramatic seriousness while soaring into the air summoning a whirlwind, “I shall meet you at the Monorail!”

Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.



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