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Father Of The Pride: The Complete Series

DreamWorks Television Animation (August 31 2004), DreamWorks Home Entertainment (June 7 2005), double-sided single disc, 228 mins plus supplements, 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital Surround, Rated TV-14, Retail: $29.99

Storyboard:

A more mature-styled DreamWorks takes on prime time animated television and comes up with Father Of The Pride, revealing the “backstage exploits” of a family of lions and their animal friends at the Siegfried & Roy magic act in Vegas. At times it’s more risqué than a lot of the more adult-themed sitcoms out there, and often wilder than Wild Kingdom… You have been warned!

The Sweatbox Review:

When DreamWorks Animation’s long rumored push into television animation was announced as being in the pipeline for real, a lot of eyebrows were raised. The Studio promised theatrical level CGI animation and high production values. The idea was to tell of what went on behind-the-scenes of the Siegfried & Roy magic shows in Las Vegas, from the point of view of the lions that frequently appear in their act.

Great, I felt, what an idea! My mind started coming up with imaginings of the real Siegfried & Roy, perhaps opening the show with a snippet of their act, and then cutting to photorealistic lions complaining about their lot. I was primed for lots of clever humor, playing out as the lions and animals were led in and out of their cages between stints on stage. This was going to be really fun, really original and change the face of TV animation. Then the news that DWs, flushed with the success of films such as Shrek 2, was working to capacity on Shark Tale and Madagascar, and that Father Of The Pride, as the show was brilliantly dubbed early on, was having its animation farmed out to Hong Kong. My internal alarm bells rang, and I started to worry about the “theatrical levels” being upheld, considering that 90% of far eastern animation (albeit the hand-drawn kind) is usually complete trash.

Adding to this was Roy Horn’s incident with one of the real-life tigers in the act, who almost mauled him in a random attack. Later it was explained that the tiger was apparently trying to save Horn’s life, when the big cat presumed Horn was in danger, though this didn’t help production of the show and it seemed to be on hold for a while. Amazingly, Horn began to recover from his injuries, the show went ahead, and images began to spread of what lay in store for Father Of The Pride. When the trailer started appearing, it showed that the animation was (just about) up to scratch, but the concept was nothing like how I’d imagined. No photo-realistic animals here, and even Siegfried & Roy had been digitalised, looking like rubbery cartoon caricatures of themselves.

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I’m not sure if Horn’s accident caused a changing of vocal duties on the show, but here Siegfried & Roy aren’t even played by themselves, merely acting as background and comedy sidekicks to the mane (sorry!) stars in oddball inserts that pop up intermittently. It’s clear that the format, coupled with a strangely darker level of humor than we attach to even the usually edgier DreamWorks fare, is what killed the show off when it debuted almost a year ago, at the end of last summer. The humor just isn’t a proper fit to the show’s set up, and the two elements are consistently at loggerheads throughout the series.

That Father Of The Pride was also wrongly promoted as being family-friendly (whatever the 9pm slot and creator Jeffery Katzenberg – also the K in DreamWorks SKG – said) was the death knell, and NBC pulled the plug early. Some further episodes were stripped late last year, but the very public failure of the very expensive show (at $1.6 million an episode) had already marked the product, and audiences were resistant to signing up again. Surprisingly, at the People’s Choice Awards, the show was nominated as Best New Comedy, which might have suggested Father Of The Pride was ripe for reappraisal, but the final two remaining episodes went unaired and the show came to an end.

In the UK, it’s similarly been getting the short thrift, though I do not know whether that is down to low audience figures or the fact that it keeps getting shunted around the channels, first from Sunday evenings, to random weekdays, usually Wednesday or Friday. It’s been a hard slog to keep up, and frankly, I ended up not bothering, since the quality of the show didn’t strike me as “must see” TV and I knew this DVD would eventually quash any intrigue. And so, with the disc in my paws, I sat down for an onslaught marathon of all 14 episodes of Father Of The Pride

The disc kicks off with the Original Pilot, but we’ll skip that and save it as the extra it is to be looked on as below, and start with the first broadcast show, Sarmoti Moves In, continuing a story set up in the pilot, wherein head of the family Larry inadvertently replaces father-in-law Sarmoti in Siegfried & Roy’s Las Vegas show. Directed by Steve Hickner, once of the hand drawn epic The Prince Of Egypt, this opener is fairly fun, some language aside, and sets up the family-at-home situations well enough, though the animation is immediately not quite fully theatrical quality, especially let down by some erratic and staccato camera moves. Catnip And Trust is your basic parents worrying about their kids taking illegal substances, with Larry’s wife Kate finding something suspicious in daughter Sierra’s room, and is not an especially eventful show.

One Man’s Meat Is Another Man’s Girlfriend is actually the best animated of the shows so far, though received the lowest ratings and spelled the beginning of the end for NBC’s broadcast. Snack the Gopher falls in love, and Larry is put on a strict crash diet under the supervision of a rough bunny trainer (a guest starring R. Lee Ermey, of Full Metal Jacket and Toy Story soldier fame), eventually finding himself going for Snack’s girlfriend (Christina Applegate) in a completely different way. Those with eager ears will also be able to pick out Garry Marshall, Dom DeLuise and Pauly Shore among the other guest voices.

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What’s Black And White And Depressed All Over? has Larry and Kate’s son Hunter on his first day at wrestling practice, while Larry and Kate are looking forward to some quiet time. Naturally, that’s not to be, when their panda friend Foo-Lyn (guest voice Lisa Kudrow) comes knocking at the door with love woes. Larry has the bright idea of teaming her up with new panda in town Nelson (Andy Richter), but things don’t exactly go to plan when Nelson turns out to be exceptionally shy. This was one of the episodes I caught when it aired, and features some delightfully weird Siegfried & Roy moments, clearly stealing the show from its nominal stars.

Rounding out the first selection are Larry’s Debut And Sweet Darryl Hannah, Too (featuring a very funny sketch with Siegfried & Roy, Larry and a smug tiger who can’t wait to get into the act), and And The Revolution Continues in which Siegfried & Roy take the family out to dinner while Sarmoti is left to bond with grandson Hunter. Meanwhile Sierra takes it upon herself to “liberate” a lobster, Emerson (Danny DeVito) from the restaurant, which leads to complications, but a very fun rescue attempt, when Larry intervenes. Among the voices here are long time animation vocal chameleon Corey Burton.

Flipping over the disc, and we’re in on the next batch of episodes. Things pretty much remain the same, although I seemed to be enjoying the show more at this point (or was it wearing me down?). What really seems to be the problem is the “sameness” of each episode, with the animals trapped in their surroundings not making for a great number of scenarios to play out in the way that The Simpsons or Family Guy manage to break out of every now and then. Meanwhile, Siegfried & Roy are able to split free from their confines, and this is also what probably adds to the enjoyment of their scenes. Again, that could be down to me becoming more familiar with the show and knowing what to expect, but it does seem as if letting the animals escape once in while would have opened up the show some.

At this halfway point, The Thanksgiving Episode is next, which has Kate inviting an offended turkey family around for dinner, while Snack makes a new friend in Roy. The “traditional” DreamWorks digs at Disney continue if one closely checks out a pack of Crunchy Nuts cereal – is that a Home On The Range swipe I spotted? Possession is next, and is the classic show that sees Larry “borrowing” the tiger’s huge state-of-the-art TV to make up to Kate, while Sarmoti tries to come to terms with Hunter’s suspected sexual identity.

Act of desperation? Or clever self-referencing? Whatever one might think, the Donkey episode, which features at this point, certainly did help draw some fresh attention to the broadcast run. Acknowledging that Donkey is an animal “star” from the Shrek pictures, it seems he’s in town shooting a commercial, and the rest of the animals are all eager to get close. It’s not all about the ass though, as the episode also sees Larry failing to impress at Hunter’s school. Turning to Donkey for help, we see the true side of the “Hollywood star” and he brushes Larry off. However, Sarmoti takes a shot as “securing” Donkey’s services, leading them into further trouble! It’s a quick and fun paced episode that makes some cheeky self-referential nods to the Shrek movies and DreamWorks itself (“don’t forget, Shrek 3 is out in 2007”).

Road Trip sees Siegfried & Roy out on the road, putting on a show at their country estate, while Larry tries to make his anniversary with Kate something special. In Rehabilitation, Larry is suffering a minor injury which, as is situation comedy law, he plays up into something much bigger than it is so that he can sit and relax and enjoy the pampering he gets. In the cause of events, Sarmoti ends up taking Larry’s painkillers, which has a very mellowing effect on the crotchety old lion! One of the better episodes, with well-written gags that don’t stray too close to the mark, and some nice animation.

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Finally, The Siegfried & Roy Movie Fantasy Experience Movie is the purposely long-titled episode that primarily features the magical pair. Without anything that puts the show into any kind of context, I can only guess that this is one of the unaired episodes, as it is also to be found masquerading as a special feature in the bonus section. With much more of the titular pair in the frame than usual, this is an added reward for those who stuck to the show because of these two characters, and is perhaps the funniest of the lot. Though the lions do get a look in, it’s the magical duo that grab the limelight in this one, as they embark on the quest to make a big movie – directed by Martin Scorsese (“apart from Gangs Of New York he knows what he’s doing”) no less – to save their careers.

Without question, Father Of The Pride gets better as it goes on. The animation, quite stiff and of direct-to-video level in the beginnings, shapes up much better in later shows, as does the writing and even the performers seem to ease up and relax more as they find themselves in their roles. The look of the show isn’t as multi-textured or lush as one might imagine, and it’s a shame that the lead family of lions weren’t given slightly different colorings, since they all seem to blend together. Likewise, their expressions are never subtle enough to really register, not being intricate enough to draw real emotion, nor being wide enough to express surprise or annoyance. The rest of the menagerie are much more vibrant in this respect, and the sidekicks also often snag most of the best one liners.

Moving over to the voices, and leading the pack is serial animated vocalist John Goodman, who here rather lazily plays Larry pretty much in the same way that he’s played other similar father-figure characters, especially from his days on Roseanne. However, his take on the Viva Las Vegas theme tune is definitely a keeper, as Goodman invokes his House Of Blues spirit and sets up the location of the show, even if the choice of song is a little obvious. Stealing the show as father-in-law Sarmoti (apparently named as an acronym for Siegfried And Roy, Masters Of The Impossible) is legendary comedian Carl Reiner, who here does his best stuff since performing with Mel Brooks in the 2000 Year Old Man routines and directing the early Steve Martin classic comedies The Jerk, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, The Man With Two Brains and All Of Me. Even better are Julian Holloway and David Herman as Siegfried & Roy themselves, saving the show from the brink. Their crazy, random inserts are as aloof and mysterious as the real-life duo, and the obscurity of the language, gadgets and schemes the pair come up with are often the highlights of each show!

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Finally, I mustn’t forget to talk about the writing, and it’s here that Father Of The Pride most frustrates. It never seems to settle down into a spoof of the family sit-com, or as its own show, preferring instead to pack in anything and everything into each 22-minute episode. Often, it’s fairly funny, but not without leaving a slightly bad taste in the mouth, and one never feels that the show has the guts to go completely out on a limb and be truly naughty, which is what it probably needed. Instead, it settles for an in-between balancing act of trying to be appealing, while trying to be new, hip and daring, without really finding an inner core of its own. That’s a shame since, as I said at the top of this review, the potential was awesome, and real history could have been made, instead of being a curious footnote as the first prime-time CGI show that didn’t do so well. What immediately struck me was the coarseness of the show, from the language to the many references to sex and drugs. It seemed to be at odds with the rather cute and cuddly animals on show.

More akin to the flashy, but ultimately empty, Shark Tale than their current, refreshingly simple Madagascar, DreamWorks’ debut animation series ultimately shapes up as more fun than the flat and uninspired photorealistic TV special Pride, though could have done with a little more of that show’s maturity. It isn’t a bad show, and in the right frame of mind there are plenty of guffaws to be had in Father Of The Pride, though instead of wincing through it with Mom and Pop and the rest of the family, getting together and having a laugh with your buddies is probably the best way to watch.

Is This Thing Loaded?

Without a slip cover or insert, and a dual-sided disc instead of the 2-disc set that might have been expected, one might feel that DreamWorks is trying to offload this critical failure to unsuspecting animation fans. Going by the back cover, and at first glance you’d think this little collection wouldn’t hold much else in store, apart from something called “The Lost Tale” and commentaries. True, the disc is a lightly thrown together affair, but thankfully DreamWorks seem to be quite proud of their program themselves (could this be as it was created by co-head honcho Katzenberg himself?) and have seen their way to fit up the series with a number of bonuses that could have just as easily been left on the cutting room floor, but make welcome inclusions here.

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The big push is for the three unaired episodes – two that NBC neglected to show in Father Of The Pride’s original run (counted as part of the series and mentioned above), and the Original Pilot that sold the concept. Accessible from the episode list or from the special features menu, the pilot is actually a fully realised, 22-minute edition of the show, albeit without the main titles and end credits that would later be added. It actually sets up the premise better than the actual season opener, and has the production value of the finished series, so one wonders why this wasn’t used – the animation especially seems a little more polished from the outset here at least. All the characters get their pre-requisite debut name check, Siegfried & Roy get more of an “intro” and even reference their absence from the Las Vegas stage. A nice touch is Sarmoti’s hair piece (something that comes back to haunt him) and a Lion King gag that keeps the predictable Disney references going.

The promised commentary isn’t much at all: merely a one minute audio introduction to the pilot in which the show’s creators speak about what this particular episode set out to achieve, including the later plot point of whether the animals and humans could understand each other that was never again touched on in the actual series. They do reveal that a lack of pace was what doomed the show to never being aired, though that was to have been dealt with by revising the pilot. Rounding out Side One is a selection of optional Previews: the full trailer for Madagascar and the previously released behind-the-scenes featurette on Aardman Animation’s Wallace and Gromit movie, The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit.

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Side Two packs a little more in, starting off with the Revised Pilot, created to speed the original show up and make it play more like an episode from the series. It was still never used, but this version is interesting viewing and shows the power of editing and how things can always be changed in post-production. Here, the show starts with the finished opening credit sequence and its all presented much more like “episode one” of the series, with new scenes, directed by John Holmquist, added to John Stevenson’s original pilot. This one features much more Siegfried & Roy (obviously identified as a strong point early on), a completely new guest starring role for Kelsey Grammer, a faster pace and overall a more complete feel, even if it loses some of the drama and goes more directly for the laughs.

A full-length commentary track is available for this episode, which elaborates more on the reasons for the changes and why it was still unused, as well as similar tracks for two other completed episodes from the series: Possession and Road Trip. The show’s creators all talk about various changes in the tone, as well as laugh a lot at their own jokes, but the monotone voices mean that these aren’t the most fascinating of commentaries and only those who are really interested in the mechanics of the show should go out of their way to listen to them. Still, nice that time and trouble was taken to have the participants sit together and discuss the series, which sounds as if it wasn’t totally ready to go into production, as they are still talking about coming to grips with the characters half-way through the run.

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The Lost Tale is basically a completed storyboarded version for what was going to be the next episode in the series, and which was fully written, performed, recorded and edited when the plug was pulled. It’s a fairly interesting experience, playing as a full episode of the show in boarded form, and one can see the level of production the show was going for by the number of poses used. The script sticks to the same kind of humor as before, though the aspect of the visuals is sometimes more interesting than what’s being said. Running almost 25 minutes, this is presented in a letterboxed ratio. Finally, the Siegfried & Roy Movie Fantasy Experience Movie is linked to again, which I highlighted in the episode run down above.

A couple of TV spots and early promotion materials wouldn’t have gone amiss on the disc, but these are to be found less and less on animation titles and DreamWorks probably wants to play down the NBC connection as much as possible with the release of Father Of The Pride on DVD. Whereas the show could have been shunted out in the cold (though never not released entirely, since there is revenue to be had!), the Studio has stood by it and provided a neat selection of supplements that add up to some pretty good value.

Case Study:

On first inspection, and as noted above, the Father Of The Pride set seems rather “light”, and the packaging is minimal at best. Worse still is that the cover hardly mentions any of the bonus features to be found within, surely the reason many on-the-fence fans may make an impulse purchase. However, full kudos to DreamWorks for openly advertising the “alternative lifestyles, racial prejudice, drug rehab” themes in the show in the sleeve synopsis, which should set the show up and warn of what to expect early on. Basic, but it does the job, also making big news of the fact that it was nominated for Best New Comedy in the People’s Choice Awards.

Ink And Paint:

Father Of The Pride was the first animated series to be shown in HDTV in the States, and this disc presentation is derived from the same 1.78:1 original aspect ratio masters. As such, things look as eye-poppingly clear as expected, even given the potential for cramped compression. I did spot some funny rendering anomalies on some scenes, especially around finely lined objects such as the big cats’ whiskers, but that’s more a production issue rather than down to DVD. Here, DreamWorks has elected for a DVD-18 “flipper” disc, with dual layers on either side, allowing for a very comfortable fit of seven episodes per side and no artefacting. “Hidden” chapters (not identified anywhere) are spread throughout each show, at post-title, half way and pre-end credit points.

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Scratch Tracks:

Produced in home-cinema friendly Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, the show’s soundtrack is also carried over to disc, with a 2.0 track for those who still need it. There’s not much difference between the tracks to be honest, but everything is here and correctly accounted for, including a nice wide spread for the music and rock steady, center driven dialogue, meaning that the show’s quick one liners never go amiss. Not much more to say than that, other than English, French and Spanish subtitles are also included.

Final Cut:

As its TV-14 rating suggests, those who don’t like the pop-culture, sometimes questionable, humor in DreamWorks product will absolutely find nothing of interest in Father Of The Pride. Undoubtedly, one of the show’s main faults is that old cache of being too old for kids and too juvenile for adults, with sex references that don’t really seem to make sense in an animated comedy. Now, I know animation is not a kids’ medium, but the style and promotion of Father Of The Pride was decidedly aimed at a family audience, who were unsurprisingly shocked when the animals started taking about the things they do and switched off in droves.

Father Of The Pride, if approached with suitable caution, is actually quite funny in a lot of ways, though a watch with very young (or old!) folk in the room may prove squeamish for some and raise certain questions that parents might not want to answer just yet! But even if Father Of The Pride itself could be said to be left wanting, some decent extras and a low price point for the amount of content presented turn this out to be good value on disc and, though no classic, it’s entertaining enough.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

pride-10.jpg MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD

 

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