On February 28th, “Crossaffliction” (aka Brendan Kachel) proposed humorously on the Flayrah website that Furry fans create their own version of Mystery Science Theater 3000 to review really bad animated videos. He had specifically in mind the 2011 French animated feature Cinderella in the Far West, with an all funny-animal cast – Cinderella as a cowgirl antelope, the prince as a visiting hound, foreign nobleman with a turkey mother, etc. — which had just become an American direct-to-video release as Cinderella: Once Upon a Time in the West. Crossaffliction’s movie review included a weblink to the American DVD, which is a Walmart Exclusive – with advertisements for three other 2011 or 2012 foreign animated features that had been campaigning for American theatrical releases, but ended up as Walmart Exclusive DVDs instead; China’s The Legend of Kung Fu Rabbit, India’s Delhi Safari, and South Africa’s Adventures in Zambezia.
Crossaffliction’s quip got comments from other Flayrah readers with their own suggestions for an animated MST3K: the French 2009 The True Story of Puss in Boots, and the Italian 2000 Titanic: The Animated Movie (which Jerry wrote about here in 2001 – almost everyone is rescued safely, especially the funny-animal passengers) and its 2004 sequel, In Search of the Titanic.
But there are plenty more animated features that the American public has never heard of, until they appear as direct-to-video releases in supermarkets and toy shops for parents to buy for their kids. These got theatrical releases in their homelands; many won national or international film awards. The Hungarian 1981 The Little Fox was even commemorated on Hungarian 1982 postage stamps as the highest grossing Hungarian-made film of the previous year. (The American video-box blurb was fascinating for trying to take advantage of its Hungarian fame while passing it off as an American production. “Award Winning Animated Feature”, but it didn’t say what award. “Based on a best-selling book”, but it didn’t say what book.)
What are some of these “unknown” animated features? Well, let’s see …
The Adventures of Renny the Fox. A Luxumberger 2005 feature, based loosely on the Reynard the Fox folk tale. The DVD is in English with French and Spanish subtitles.
Donkey Xote, a.k.a. Donkey X. A Spanish 2007 CGI feature; Don Quixote with a lot more funny animals than Miguel de Cervantes ever put into it. The American DVD came out in 2009.
Dragon Hunters. A French 2008 feature, based on a 2005 French TV series. The TV series has shown erratically on American TV. Zoe is a little girl in a fairy tale world whose rich uncle needs a dragon slain; so she goes looking for brave knights and finds two shabby losers and their midget blue dragon handyman.
Help! I’m a Fish. A Danish 2000 feature. Three children are turned into a fish, a jellyfish, and a starfish by drinking Prof. MacKrill’s potion to help humans survive when rising sea levels submerge the continents. Despite an English voice track and rave reviews and awards from international film festivals, including American, this has not gotten American theatrical distribution. Or a video release; the 2003 DVD is British Region 2 and not viewable on American DVD players. But most animation fans have multi-region DVD players, don’t we?
Little Longnose. A Russian 2003 feature, an adaptation of Wilhelm Hauff’s 1827 fairy tale (with modern comedy-relief pratfalls added). Jacob, a brave and handsome boy, refuses to help an evil witch, who curses him into a dwarf with a hunchback and a ridiculously long nose. The witch also kidnaps Princess Greta, turns her into a goose, and sells her to her father’s chefs to be cooked for dinner. Jacob helps her to escape despite his grotesque looks. Amazon.com is selling the English-dubbed 2009 DVD, but there is no information on what other languages it has.
The Missing Lynx. A Spanish 2008 feature, produced by Antonio Banderas’ Kandor (Moon) Graphics studio. Félix, a rare Iberian lynx, and four animal friends from Spain’s Doñana National Park go after the ruthless Newmann big game hunter when he kidnaps Félix’s girlfriend Lynxette. Another animated feature that got a very limited American theatrical release to qualify for an Oscar, and a much bigger 2010 home video release.
Samson & Sally: The Song of the Whales. A Danish 1984 feature, based on the novel The Song of the Whales by Danish author Bent Haller. Samson, a young albino sperm whale, believes that Moby Dick is real. His girlfriend Sally, a normally colored sperm whale, cannot convince him otherwise. When Samson’s mother is killed by whalers, Samson leaves the pod to search for Moby Dick to get him to stop the whalers. Frustration and disappointment follow. Despite being unusually depressing for a children’s movie, the American 1991 video release is still in demand.
The Snurks. The first (2004) German CGI feature, based on a TV series. The German title is Back to Gaya. Gaya, a fantasy TV show, is about the tiny, furry-pointy-ears Snurks, especially the comically bumbling wanna-be warriors Boo and Zoo. When the magic Dalamite stone is stolen, threatening their world, Boo and Zoo are part of the recovery team. The quest leads them out of the TV and into our world. Boo and Zoo must convince the other Snurks to take them seriously and become the leaders of the team to get home again.
A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures. A 2010 Belgian CGI feature, as Sammy’s Adventures. Sammy, a sea turtle, hatches in 1959 and spends the next fifty years having adventures around the world, incidentally seeing the effects of global warming.
Willy the Sparrow. A 1988 prize-winning Hungarian feature; a 2004 American DVD. Schoolboy Willy is thoughtlessly cruel to animals, and is changed into a sparrow by the Sparrow Guardian to teach him a lesson. Gee, how many times has that plot been used in children’s fantasy novels and films?
And so on. You can probably add lots of titles to this list. In May 2009 Amazon.com began selling the Indian DVD of the 2008 CGI feature Roadside Romeo, but that doesn’t count because it was not a supermarket/toystore release, and it was unmistakably Indian because it was in Hindi with English and Malayalam subtitles. Still, there are more American kidvid releases of foreign theatrical movies. The Adventures of Scamper the Penguin (Soviet, 1986; American VHS, 1992; American DVD, 2007). Animals United (Germany 2010; American Blu-Ray, 2012). Gnomes & Trolls (Sweden, 2009; American DVD, 2010). The Reef, a.k.a. Shark Bait (South Korea, 2006; American DVD, 2007). Et cetera.
To end, here is one that probably should not count, but I am going to include it anyway. In 1997, the German office of Warner Bros. agreed to commission Bioskop-film in Münich to produce an 89-minute feature, Die Furchtlosen Vier – “The Fearless Four” – in exchange for foreign and German home video sales rights. It is the story of the Brementown Musicians; Buster the dog, Gwendolyn the cat, Fred the donkey, and Tortellini the vain operatic rooster. I don’t know how well the home video sold in Germany, but I assume quite well. WB prepared a complete English dub for America, and then for no explained reason, shelved it. I had a bootleg video print, and it is delightful! Frank Welker used his Ralph the Guard voice from Animaniacs quite noticeably for one of the villain’s henchmen. I showed the video at a couple of Furry conventions in the late 1990s, when it was assumed that WB would release it in America soon, and almost everyone was eager to see it again theatrically or to buy the commercial video. Nothing. A heavily cut version of the English dub was briefly available in Britain on a PAL – Region 2 video; it and the complete German home video disappeared at about the same time. Some of the individual song sequences have been put up on YouTube, so Americans can get samples of it. But the German video is out of print, and I can’t find that it is available anywhere.