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  Directed by
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  Specs
  • Full Frame
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  Subtitles
  • None
  Extras
  • 7 Music video
  • DVD-ROM features - Sink or Swim game
  • Documentaries - The Baking of...

The Magic Pudding

ABC/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 75 mins . G . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Norman Lindsay's classic Australian childrens book comes to DVD via the big screen in suitably animated form, with characters lovingly based upon his original illustrations.

The Magic Pudding took a couple of years of hard work to complete, and features an incredibly impressive array of vocal talent - John Cleese, Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, Hugo Weaving, Toni Collette, Jack Thompson, a rather Effie-esque Mary Coustas voicing a rat with such a bulbous behind that any vermin equivalent of Spinal Tap would have their tongues lolling around their ankles (if indeed they have ankles), Michael Veitch, Marg Downey, Gerry Connolly and more. Oh, and there's also John Laws. It stands as testament to the animation talents we have in Australia that haven’t as yet been poached by the American studios - for it is apparently an all too common place occurrence.

For those that don’t know the story (shame!), having laboured under the belief that he was an orphan for his entire life, young koala Bunyip Bluegum discovers on his coming of age that he in fact isn't one. So what became of his parents Tom and Meg? Given his father's rather dapper boater hat and cane he departs the home of his uncle in search of an answer as to what in fact happened to his parents.

Meanwhile the ship that Captain Bill Barnacle, his mate Sam Sawnoff (a penguin - YAY!) and cook Bunkle (who the uninitiated will eventually discover is a wombat - a wombat raised on steroids it would appear) are aboard gets destroyed, washing the three up on icy shores. Lo and behold Albert the magic steak and kidney pudding appears (magic as he can metamorphosis into any type of pudding one desires, and like that mythical pack of Tim Tams that never runs out is a never ending pudding (cue Limahl...)), having been frozen in a giant iceblock since his trip on the Titanic ended rather abruptly after it smooched an iceberg - but I'm sure you all know that story…

Inklings that Bunkle just may be evil (after all, he does wear an eye patch, so he must be bad) are confirmed when he tries to run off with Albert in a glorious "mine, all mine BWAH HA HA!" scene. However our human and pengy heroes save the smart-mouthed culinary curiousity and bonded together as the puddin' owners club set off on their way to, umm, do something or other that isn't really explained.

As plot would have it Master Bluegum, Bill, Sam and Albert meet up soon after, and gang together on Bunyip's parental in search of. Soon after however they discover they are being pursued by puddin' thieves, nephews of the nefarious Bunkle, who is getting rather famished as he is a vegetarian, and craves possession of Albert to satiate his gastronomic urges before he resorts to the evils of meat ingestion.

That's pretty much it, a few adventures pop up along the way involving everything from cross-dressing penguins, belching wombats, drumming skinks and cockies on dunnies, until our heroes save a town from flooding by way of pudding bags (like sandbags, but filled with you guessed it) leading to the climax where Bunyip discovers his parents' fate once stumbling across Bunkle's subterranean lair, where all sorts of singing and dancing ensues, proving Ben Folds' theory that we can indeed be happy underground.

  Video
Contract

Please stand up whoever made the decision to chop this into full screen. BLAT BLAT BLAT BLAT BLAT BLAT AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGGGGGHHHH! Good, now perhaps nobody else will be so moronic in future? Whilst the main target audience, kids, more than likely won't notice the crime committed here I sure as anything did. The fact that the accompanying documentary has many scenes showing computers in the background with lovely widescreen images on their screens is the first giveaway, and then there are the innumerable scenes with chopped off noses and the odd one or two with views through telescopes that strangely have flat tops and bottoms. A jolly poor show people, and enough to make me mark down the video rating from what would have been a near perfect 10.

This is all even sadder as the transfer is utterly gorgeous. So much so that I wondered at first if this had in fact been dumped directly from computer a la A Bug's Life with its gorgeously vivid colour and clarity, although a couple of things lead me to believe that it in fact wasn't - the aforementioned lack of the actual aspect ratio it was created in, and the very occasional white speckle which shows up. Once again though I acknowledge that this would not be of any concern to the munchkin audience, of course.

  Audio
Contract

You have a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby Surround. It all sounds quite wonderful and enveloping, although the target audience probably wouldn’t mind if it was in scratchy old mono. It's very refreshing to see that the sound people involved cared more than those responsible for the video side of things.

Following the traditional blueprint for such films quite faithfully this is a musical, so the various characters break into song whenever a vaguely appropriate opportunity presents itself. Styles vary a little, but are mostly from the rousing, typically traditional animated feature song school, rather than the vomit-inducing epic Elton John/Phil Collins type that have emerged over the past decade. Friends is quite gorgeous, and proves that not only is Toni Collette a superb actress, she also has a decent set of lungs. There's even a mildly DOOFish Merril Bainbridge end credits song that didn’t have my bile rising - which from me is high praise indeed. Meanwhile, Chris Harriott's orchestral score is suitably cartoonish, although a tad Play School at times for me. Then again I am a 30-something woman who isn't exactly the target audience for this. I'm sure though that if I popped back in Mr Peabody's wayback machine I would be bopping along with much unabashed glee.

  Extras
Contract

The disc contains but a very modest selection of extra bits and pieces, and not even the cinematic trailer…

Song selection: Shortcuts to the seven main musical numbers in the film (It's a Wonderful Day, Albert the Magic Pudding, The Puddin' Owners Song, Friends, It's Worse Than Weevils, Save the Town and In the Underground Tonight) for those who just can't resist that urge to SING! It would have been nice if somebody had actually stuck the words on in subtitles to help kiddies screech along, but alas this simple addition was somehow overlooked.

The Baking of: A fabulous just over 26 minute long behind the scenes documentary, featuring interviews with director Karl Zwicky, animation director Robbert Smit, executive producer Carmel Travers (ooh, memories of Beyond 2000!), composer Chris Harriott, sound mixer Phil Judd (who was an original member of pop geniuses Split Enz - we’re not worthy!), actors Cleese, Neill, Rush, Thompson, Coustas, as well as a typically dishevelled Weaving, plus a bunch of kids. There's also some classic black and white news footage of an interview with original author Lindsay.

The video quality varies, but the weirdest thing is that this whole feature is presented in 1.85:1, which after the butchery performed on the main feature makes no sense whatsoever. I am at a loss to explain why, but it certainly is odd considering the off-to-an-ad break inserts within the feature, suggesting that this was originally made for telly and perhaps even masked for its inclusion on this DVD.

I must also comment on the great lengths Zwicky goes to at one point to play down the involvement of computers compared to traditional animation techniques, which is a bit ridiculous considering the amount of effects work within the film that only computers could achieve. They are just as valid creative tools nowadays as pencil and ink, and require no less artistry to utilise skilfully, so I don’t see the need to be embarrassed about the fact.

Whilst I found this documentary informative and enjoyable (especially the irrepressible Mr Cleese), whoever was authoring the disc must have been bored off his/her scone as it cuts off before the ending fade to black finishes, which is extremely sloppy.

Sink or Swim game: For those with DVD-ROM equipped PC's (Mac users need not apply), this would appear to be a mini-game lifted from The Magic Pudding Adventure CD-ROM. If you have a standalone player though it's just a static screen plugging said game and the movie's web site.

  Overall  
Contract

Adhering quite closely to the Disney school of animation, whereby characters endlessly break into song and female animals have breasts, The Magic Pudding adds an unashamedly Australian feel into the mix, and it is a joy (and pleasant change) to behold.

As both a DVD and a movie in its own right it is perfectly brilliant kiddie fodder. At 75 minutes it isn’t too long for gnat-like attention spans, and should be visually and sonically bombastic enough to keep all but the most hyperactive little ones glued to the screen. There are a few nods to older audiences, who would also be the only ones to notice or care about the butchery that has been wrought upon the film. Extras are limited, however adults should enjoy the behind the scenes documentary whilst younger children probably shouldn't be let loose with the remote control to play with bonus stuff anyway.

I know that there are a whole bunch of wowsers out there who baulk at any cinematic offering that is even remotely proud of being Australian, and somehow feel such creations are inferior to product from certain overseas companies simply because it's locally made. On release The Magic Pudding suffered somewhat from this incredibly pathetic cultural-cringe attitude, which is a crying shame as this is as good as, or better, than any such foreign offerings, and testament to the wealth of talent we should be proud we have to offer the world - and I'm no flag-waving, one-eyed patriot either. Basically if you'd rather feed your children the latest Disney offering than this then you're a bloody McIdiot...

Oh, and if it makes you feel any better at all we learn at the end that no animated animals were harmed in the making of this film. Cute.


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      And I quote...
    "If you'd rather feed your children the latest Disney offering than this then you're a bloody McIdiot..."
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Speakers:
          Home Built
    • Surrounds:
          No Name
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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