Sunday, August 23, 2015

Van Helsing: The London Assignment (2004) Review:

The character of Abraham Van Helsing is quite common among horror enthusiasts. Being that he has been portrayed in several live-action films along side his arch foe Count Dracula; he was bound to be focused on at some point. As for animation, this is probably one of the very few he's been seen in. As for why this particular production was made, remains to be understood. In some ways it runs along the same lines as Hellboy Animated: Sword of Storms (2006) and Hellboy Animated: Blood and Iron (2007); they have continuity with their live-action counterparts but aren't clear in their target audience. There's enough to enjoy on this little feature for 30 minutes but as for setting up a universe for itself is a totally different problem.

Van Helsing & Carl
The plot starts with mysterious bloody off screen deaths of young women walking around the streets of London at the wrong hours of the night. Turns out that Dr. Jekyll (Dwight Schultz) and his alter ego Mr. Hyde (Robbie Coltrane) are up to no good. During the day Dr. Jekyll plays doctor to an ill and elderly Queen Victoria (Tara Strong) and secretly loves her. However in order to cure the Queen of her sickness, the likes of Mr. Hyde is needed to harvest the youth of other women. Enter Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) and his partner Carl (David Wenham) to search and find out all that has happened. For what it's worth, this half an hour feature gets to the point quickly. It literally feels like a Saturday morning cartoon. In some ways this is good and others not. The pro of it being 30 minutes is that the plot, written by Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Judith Reeves-Stevens is clean cut and gets to the point. The con to this is that the introduction to Van Helsing and his partner come out of nowhere. Plus, the side character of Carl feels even less familiar because he just feels like some nobody.

Direction was headed by Sharon Bridgeman (her first time) who normally works in the animation department and has been apart of projects like Shark Tale (2004) and How to Train Your Dragon (2010). With those kinds of projects in mind, Bridgeman probably had a good idea of what she wanted to have in this short. Combine that with Jeff Starling as the visual development artist and there is something unique to see. The overall animation is all right for the most part. There are some areas that look somewhat choppy but that's mostly on the scenes that do not involve as much movement. When it comes to action the animation becomes much better. This is not only in fluidity but also in 3D rendering effects. For these key scenes the blending isn't the strongest, but it is that uneasy blending that makes it interesting to see because it is 2D on top of 3D. Most of the time this really wouldn't be a thing to praise but it's intriguing enough to look at so there must be something to benefit from it. It's not distracting at all.

Along with the animation, the actual action sequences entertain. Helsing has his weapons and can maneuver around with ease. There's a nicely paced scene that involves a chase between Helsing and Hyde on an old subway (which also includes that 3D rendering mentioned before). That looked like fun. Surprisingly for action, there are also some pretty graphic images. If this were a live-action film it would've been rated R. The way the women are killed by Hyde are not clean and there is blood shown. See how it parallels the Hellboy animated films? Who exactly is this animated film made for again? Obviously not all animated films are made for kids but if the live-action sequel has a rating of PG-13 what's going on here then? Why is Universal Studios not budging their nose in on this production but can do it for the story that comes after this? Let's be consistent guys.

Someone woke up cranky this morning
The voice acting is well casted. Hugh Jackman has his moments of some funny one liners as Helsing and has acceptable chemistry with his lesser skilled companion Carl who also has moments of quirkiness. Tara Strong as Queen Victoria appropriately plays the role like any actress would. Dwight Schultz as Dr. Jekyll is an excellent choice considering Schultz has a lot of experience in voice work and has voiced numerous characters ages old and new. Robbie Coltrane as Mr. Hyde was another suitable casting decision. Taking into account the actual size of Coltrane seems like the only legitimate actor to take on Hyde due to his brute strength and deep voice. Even John DiMaggio has a small role although I'm curious if DiMaggio could've topped Coltrane as Mr. Hyde. The music composed by John Van Tongeren was okay but anonymous. It had all the sounds of orchestra but lacked a main theme or any cues that were memorable.

It's music and writing is a little above average only because of the amount of time given for this whole feature being a half-hour. There isn't much for background to the main characters and the violence is questionable when it comes to audience viewing. However, the digital renderings mixed with animation is unique, the voice-over work is good and the action is fun.

Points Earned --> 6:10

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