Thor: Legend of the Magical Hammer (DVD)

Is that a magic hammer, or are you glad to see me?

Forget most of what you know about mythology—whether it’s classic Norse mythology or Marvel Comics mythology—because here comes a whole new take on a familiar character.

Thor (Justin Cregg) is a humble blacksmith, who longs to leave his middle-of-nowhere small town. Turns out he’s the long-lost son of Odin, king of the gods (Alan Stanford). In Valhalla, city of the gods, a conniving elf (Emmett Scanlon) tries to sell Odin a magic hammer. Through a series of comedic mishaps, the hammer ends up with Thor, who learns to use it as a weapon. Just in time, too, because the Ice Queen (Liz Lloyd) has emerged from the underground to launch an all-out attack on the gods. Can Thor fulfill his destiny and be the hero the world needs him to be?

Where did this thing come from? Although the movie begins with an astounding fifteen studio logos at front, the one that stands out is animation studio Caoz, based in Iceland. No doubt hoping for a big international audience, the story is mostly Americanized, with some wacky Scottish and Cockney accents thrown in for comic relief. The film has been released in other countries under the titles Legends of Valhalla—Thor and Thor and Crusher.

The movie is clearly following a template, one set forth by the likes of Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon, and, especially, Disney’s animated Hercules. The plot is your basic hero’s journey. The humor is that modernized, self-conscious type—not quite as pop-culture-y as Shrek, but close. Characterizations are as simple as they can be. Thor doesn’t have any real flaws, he’s just young and nice and hopeful. His friend Edda (Nicola Coughlin) is feisty and headstrong while still being cute, just like so many other girls in fantasy cartoons. Odin is buffoonish but kind, the elf talks like a skeezy used car salesman, and the villain’s only motivation boils down to “Everybody check out how evil I am.” In short, there’s nothing here you haven’t already seen in a dozen other animated films.

I don’t like having to write these things, because despite the movie’s shortcomings, there’s no denying the animators’ ambitions, which were sky-high. Visually, the movie can’t compete with Pixar’s best, but it’s as low-rent as other direct-to-video animated fare. The backgrounds are lush, with realistic-looking grass, clouds, and water effects. The more fantasy-based scenes in Valhalla are elaborately designed, and the big battle at the end, while mostly slapstick, is staged nicely, with a lot of different characters running around and interacting at once. On occasion, the characters move more like marionettes on strings than in any more natural way, and there are a few shots where they have that “dead eyes” look, but otherwise, it’s a good-looking film for what it is.

The DVD offers a clean transfer, making the most of the bright, vivid colors. Sound is good too, with no distortion in dialogue, score, or effects. There are no extras.

I wanted to like this film, and I can tell the filmmakers really gave it all they had. Unfortunately, it has nothing new to say, and doesn’t offer anything viewers haven’t already seen.

The Verdict

By Odin’s beard, guilty.

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