Marvel Animation, Lionsgate (May 17, 2011), 2 disc combo set of Blu-ray and DVD, 77 mins. plus supplements, 1.78:1 widescreen, DTS-HD Master Audio, Not Rated, Retail: $29.99


Young Thor of Asgard wants to prove that he is a powerful and honorable prince to his father Odin. He sets out on a journey with his brother Loki and a ragtag group of adventurers into the land of the ice giants to find a legendary sword, but their actions bring war to Asgard.

The Sweatbox Review:

When you think about Marvel superheroes, Spider-Man and some member of the X-men are the first characters that pop into people’s heads. Thor is one of Marvel’s headlining characters, but he’s been regulated to comic book shop, videogames, and the occasional guest spot on cartoon series starring his more famous allies. He never really hit mainstream media until recently with the Thor movie and The Avenger’s: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes cartoon. Drawing on the advertising for the live-action movie, Marvel Animation produced Thor: Tales of Asgard a direct to video movie meant to rouse younger fans’ interest in a supposed budding enterprise. On the cover you see a variant of Thor’s normal costume with more fur, but minus the winged helmet and his mythological hammer Mjolnir. Upon seeing this cover image, I believed the movie would be a typical superhero adventure about fighting evil with honor with some Norse mythology thrown into the mix adding a semi-educational twist.

How I was deceived. The Thor we meet is a godling teenager with a big head and all too ready fall into a lapse of angst if things don’t go his way. He spends his days in the battle ring fighting Asgard’s most fearsome band of warriors to the cheers of his people. Any warrior he fights acquiesces the brawl, a privilege due to him as son of the All-Father, Odin. Thor believes his flawless record is due to his keen swordsmanship and not his princely status. Sif, Thor’s obvious romantic interest, is the only one who challenges his inflated ego. She berates him for his pride and never seeing the world outside of Asgard. After dispatching him in one move with a hoe, she flies off to join the valkyries to rid herself of her frustration. Thor’s brother Loki also encourages the illusion and scoffs at Sif.

Disheartened and furious, Thor heads to Odin’s throne room demanding that his father let him test his skills outside the kingdom. Odin refuses, stating that since Thor turned his training into a public spectacle he is not worthy and that he also fixes all of Thor’s fights to ensure his victory to keep the people’s faith in the royal family. Enraged, Thor decides to leave Asgard and seek adventure. Algrim, a dark elf and the last survivor of his people, is Odin’s advisor and also confidant to the young prince. He usually tries to discourage Thor, but upon viewing the current situation between father and son he supports the journey, promising to delay Odin from discovering his plans.

Thor enlists Loki as his hesitant, yet eager accomplice for his magic prowess and genuine mischief. What’s an adventure without the trickster archetype? The brothers stowaway on the ship of the Warriors Three—self-proclaimed heroes who encounter ice giants, dragons, rescue damsels, and anything else that makes a good story. They quickly discover that the trio’s adventures are hogwash, but Thor and Loki still require their help. Thor and his band of loyal companions venture to Yodenheim, the land of the ice giants, in search of the Lost Sword of Surtur. The sword is the most powerful weapon in existence, capable of wiping out ice giants or armies in a single swing. Thor seeks the sword to bring glory to himself and Asgard.

Once Thor retrieves the Sword of Surtur, he causes the ice giants and Asgard to nearly annihilate one another in a war as a consequence of his pride. He also stumbles into the valkyries’ training camp, bringing Sif back into the story with clichéd jokes about women warriors and their prevailing attitudes toward men.

Thor: Tales of Asgard follows Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey formula with slight modifications to the monomyth path. While there is nothing wrong with plotting stories around this time tested outline that continues to inspire writers and artists, problems arise when nothing new is added to the journey. The end result is an adventure story littered with stereotypes, static characters, and fruitless morals meant to motivate youngsters about honor, courage, horrors of war, and finding your purpose.

While watching the direct-to-video movie, I mentally checked off the necessary elements for a hero’s journey: a hero character, a call to adventure, fighting through trials and tribulations, getting the sought item, and returning home a better person. Thor: Tales of Asgard has other typical plot devices associated with Campbell’s idea that have been added by creative minds over the years: assembling a group, igniting a war between two races, averting said war, betrayal of a mentor, and romance. The Hero’s Journey is an easy trap to fall into as it presents an easy guide, especially for a cartoon aimed at children. Marvel Animation didn’t try very hard to get out of it, though.

Norse mythology actually plays a larger role in the plot than I thought. Legendary myths such as the origin of Odin’s one eye and Loki’s trickster nature are interwoven into the story as plot elements. The nine realms are touched upon to create the scope of Thor’s world (perhaps there are more future animated movies for young prince). What really impressed me were the inclusion of dark elves and frost giants, pulling ancient rivalries and characters from the actual myths instead of introducing one-shot villains that never appeared in the comic books or mythology. Brunnhilde was depicted as a man-hating Amazon warrior, while in legend she is a valkyries loyal to Odin. Fenris the Wolf also appears in a pub, which is ironic, since he is the son of Loki and by this timeline should not be born yet.

A predictable plot aside, younger audiences will enjoy the movie. Thor fans and older audiences may find their attention spans wandering and monitoring the clock on the DVD player to see how much longer it will last.

Is This Thing Loaded?

Whenever you click on a menu option, the screen transitions to the selected option with a series of clips from the movie. On the scene selection menu, individual segments are titled and numbered. The DVD and Blu-ray disc share the same special features, except the latter has a trailer gallery of other Marvel animated features.

Worthy: The Making of Thor: Tales of Asgard (22 min.) is a featurette that goes behind the scenes of the creative process. Craig Kyle—supervising producer/co-story, Eric S. Rollman—executive producer, Greg Johnson—screenwriter, Joshua Fine—associate producer, and Gary Harte—supervising director/producer each weigh in on the movie. They describe how they wanted to take a different approach to Thor’s character by starting with him as a teenager and how he had a brotherly relationship with Loki. The animation process is explained and how they approached it. You also get to see the conceptualization of the score and how it developed. Surprisingly, there aren’t any interviews with the voice cast.

The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes Bonus Episode (23 min.) is pulled straight from the half-hour series. “Thor the Mighty” follows Thor’s journey to the world of man to protect innocent people from the scourges of evil. He thwarts Loki’s attempt to take over the world with the aid of some ridiculously dressed villains. Thor is depicted as his well-known comic persona of a brave Norse God dedicated to the usual honor, bravery, and other morals in the superhero code.

There are two Feature-Length Audio Commentaries. The first is with supervising producer Craig Kyle and screenwriter Greg Johnson, the creative minds behind the picture. At times they are narrating the film, rather than explaining how they developed it. They do offer behind the scenes and story tidbits that aren’t described in the film. Gary Hartle, director Sam Liu, and character designer Phil Bourassa are recorded in the second and they have more to offer on the development. The discuss character design, music, colors, costume, and the digital environment. It fills in the gaps that Craig Kyle and Greg Johnson failed to address.

Case Study:

A foil embossed outer cover slips over the standard Blu-ray disc case, each presents the same cover picture. The cover image displays a hand-drawn/painted adult Thor by Alex Ross holding the Sword of Surtur, which does not resemble the film’s actual animation. Inside the case, the two discs are housed side by side: one is the DVD version and the other is the Blu-ray. The DVD has as picture of Thor and his friends, while the Blu-ray has a close-up of the cover image.

Ink And Paint:

The animation fell somewhere between movie and Saturday morning cartoon quality. Backgrounds, character designs, transitions are smooth and clean, showing up nicely in HD. There were very little outlines, however. In most cartoons, characters are outlined in black or a darker, contrasting color to set them apart from the background. The characters in Thor: Tales of Asgard were not and they appear faded on the screen. Another flaw was an effect I thought lost in the age of digital animation: standout color cells on the background. I’m unaware of the actual terminology, but when individual cells were still used to animate cartoons, they were placed on a static background, photographed, removed, and then replaced with the subsequent cell. On older cartoons you can see items characters were going to manipulate or where they were going based off the color variation. I found this happening with Thor and his companions. It might make you feel nostalgic for the old style animation, but I was just annoyed that it wasn’t fixed. Also if you concentrated hard enough, you can break individual characters into the geometric shapes from their concept art. The Blu-ray disc is better to view for the higher quality HD view, but not even the better image could hide the animation flaws. The opening and ending credits with their grainy, sepia tones and cascading camera angles had the best work.

Scratch Tracks:

The DVD comes with English 5.1 Dolby digital audio and Spanish 2.0 Dolby digital audio. The Blu-ray has 7.1 DTS-HD master audio and Spanish 5.1 Dolby digital audio. All tracks are loud and clear, presenting decent sound quality. Each disc has English and Spanish subtitles. The DVD has English closed captions, while the Blu-ray disc has English SDH.

Final Cut:

If you are a fan of Marvel comics and any of its associated properties, Thor: Tales of Asgard will either please you or make you bored. The plot and characters are filling preset molds that have been duplicated again and again in cartoons, books, comic books, and movies. It would be a great example for a writing class on what not to do with a screenplay. The younger demographic will enjoy it, however, especially with its close release to the live-action movie. This is a movie to watch if you want to kill time, but if you miss an opportunity to view it you will not be lose anything significant.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?