Aqua Teen Forever: Plantasm is unlikely to win over any new admirers, but is a delightful return to the world of Aqua Teen Hunger Force that should satisfy longtime fans.
The Production: 3.5/5
In the beginning, there was AIM.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (otherwise known as “college campuses” in the early aughts), we didn’t all have cell phones, and certainly not smartphones. We weren’t connected all the time. But our dorm room computers were. And we’d use the away messages on our free AOL Instant Messenger accounts as both an answering machine and as a way to highlight whatever it was we were into at the moment. The lovelorn had their mood spelled out in song quotes, the popular had their weekend party plans on display, the academics had their study plans laid out, and my friend and roommate B had… Aqua Teen Hunger Force quotes.
B’s away messages were littered with offbeat, nonsensical quotes from people called things like “Frylock,” “Meatwad,” “Master Shake,” and “Carl,” my favorite of which was simply, “If I woke up looking like that, I would just run towards the nearest living thing and kill it.” I had no idea what an Aqua Teen was or what any of this meant, but it never failed to make me laugh. One day at last, my curiosity got the better of me, and I asked B to explain it.
I don’t remember exactly what B’s explanation was or if he even tried to offer one. (Perhaps this lack of memory has something to do with B giving me an educational demonstration of a certain plant-based substance which I am prepared to deny should my children ever ask.) But I do remember B explaining that at midnight, the normally child-oriented Cartoon Network turned into Adult Swim, a lineup of mostly 11 minute long animated series aimed at people like us – you know, sophisticated college viewers. (Sidenote: my best friend C was beside herself when I told her I started watching Aqua Teen, not because she hated it, but because she loved it too and swore that she had tried to get me to watch it only to have her suggestions repeatedly ignored. C, I’m sorry – I should have listened to you the first time!)
Adult Swim’s crown jewel was Aqua Teen Hunger Force (kinda-sorta spun off from Space Ghost: Coast To Coast), which aired two episodes every night at midnight which together comprised a half hour block; old episodes would repeat on weeknights, with new episodes occasionally premiering on Sundays. The series ran from 2000-2015, under a variety of different titles in its later years, and was successful enough to justify the creation of a theatrically released feature film in 2007. That film (Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters) was actually much better than it had any right to be, but at times scraped up against the limits of turning an irreverent, inconsequential eleven minute show into a ninety minute feature. Whereas the series thrived by putting its characters into unsolvable situations and then having the audience laugh at its inability to come to a conclusion, movies tend to ask more of their audiences, and some of the jokes started wearing out their welcome by the time the movie reached its conclusion. It’s probably not unfair to say that what worked well in small doses didn’t always work better as a larger offering.
Aqua Teen wrapped up its broadcast run in 2015, which seems like another lifetime ago. My future wife and I were starting to get serious and had recently moved in together, but marriage and children weren’t even on the horizon yet. In many ways, I’m a different person now than I was then, but at my core, I’m still the guy who thinks the floating French fries, talking milkshake and sentient ball of raw meat are hilarious, even if I can’t quite explain why. When my kids were born in 2019, I didn’t have a lot of time to watch TV, so Aqua Teen’s short running time made it perfect for revisiting, and when 2019’s new parenthood adventure turned into 2020’s pandemic odyssey, I kept going. As soon as I had wrapped up my trip down memory lane, it was announced that the Aqua Teens would be returning in a new, direct-to-video film. And when my fellow reviewer, Timothy E., offered to split review duties on this one with me, I was delighted to take him up on his generous offer.
You might have noticed by now I haven’t actually explained what Aqua Teen is all about, or what happens in Aqua Teen Forever: Plantasm. As much of a cop-out as this will seem, Aqua Teen in all of its incarnations defies explanation. It’s something that either works for you, or it doesn’t. (I hesitate to say that it’s something to “get” because the show isn’t really concerned with things like logic, sense, relatable characters or plot. The only thing really important to get is that there’s nothing to get. It embraces its absurdity without apology or explanation.)
Inasmuch as Plantasm has a plot, it is centered around its leading trio of Frylock, Meatwad and Master Shake (along with former neighbor Carl) coming back together after years apart, reuniting to try to take down an Elon Musk/Jeff Bezos-type who wants to take over the world by establishing absolute supremacy through his online retail outlet, Amazin’. Along the way, there are numerous callbacks to previous Aqua Teen characters and scenarios from the series that will make longtime fans smile with recognition while utterly baffling everyone else. The film is also knowingly self-referential, at times breaking the fourth wall to mock its place among the current renaissance of sequels and reboots. (Though this does raise the question – unintentionally, perhaps – as to whether its a worthwhile endeavor to make a mediocre film in order to spoof a proliferation of mediocre films.)
Asking whether or not Plantasm is any good is almost beside the point. If you’ve never seen any prior Aqua Teen anything, this is almost certainly not the place to start. If you’ve seen Aqua Teen before but didn’t get it then, there’s nothing here that’s going to change your opinion. Comedies are the hardest genre to appraise because humor is so subjective, not only to each individual, but also the specific moment in which that individual engages the material. If you have fond memories for Aqua Teen’s refusal to follow any sort of convention, refusal to respect any kind of decorum, and like your humor with a lot of non-sequiturs masquerading as story points, Plantasm is for you. Like the 2007 film, Plantasm seems to lag at times; it starts and ends well but gets a little slow in the middle. Would I have preferred seven new 11 minute episodes rather than one 76 minute movie? If I’m being completely honest, yes. Am I unhappy or unsatisfied with the movie we did get? Absolutely not. There were stretches where I howled with laughter, and others where I chuckled silently but with a knowing grin. Every time I thought the film might have peaked and stayed a little past its welcome, something new came along to crack me up again.
I’d like to think that in the years since I first was clued in to Aqua Teen in college, that while I’ve changed and grown, I’ve remained true to the core of who I was. And so, flawed as it may be, Plantasm worked for me because I’ve never lost my appreciation for the show. I’m still friends with B; as much as his life has changed since those college days, he’s stayed true to himself, and I think that’s why even though we don’t get to see each other often, we always pick right back up from where we left off. (The same is true of C, for that matter.) If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that the next time we find ourselves in a room together, I’ll have to ask them what they thought of this film. As such, I found Plantasm to be an especially worthy endeavor because it brought me to a time in my life I’ll always treasure, with fond memories of the people I shared that time with. If you’re also a longtime fan, I suspect you’ll feel the same way.
3D Rating: NA
For its world premiere home video release, Aqua Teen Forever: Plantasm is presented in a ratio of 1.78:1, completely filling the screen on 16×9 displays. This compositional choice makes sense given both its origins as a television series and the reality that its viewers will almost certainly see it at home on 16×9 formatted screens.
For the Blu-ray disc: How does one rate the video quality of two dimensional animation that’s basically moving cutouts of fast food drawings? While I can’t comment on whether the flesh tones of the sentient food objects presented in the film are true to life, I can say that the look of the film is consistent with the look of the series, and that there are no compression artifacts or any other unpleasant digital anomalies present. The rudimentary nature of the animation designs here make this impossible to serve as a reference disc, but I believe it looks as good as it possibly can.
For the UHD disc, from Timothy: The video presentation was excellent overall, with fidelity to the fine line-work of the animation. The Blu-ray and 4K presentations are comparable, but the 4K disc does make very nice use of a broad range of colors, despite it not utilizing HDR.
Both the Blu-ray and UHD discs offer the same DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track. Dialogue is clear and easy to discern – excepting the intentional creative choices that have some characters harder to understand than others – and generally confined the the center channel. While the animation is rudimentary by design, the sound mix is often surprisingly active, with Timothy and I both taking special note of the discrete use of directional audio as adding a huge amount of production value.
Special Features: 3.5/5
All of special features listed below are contained on the Blu-ray disc; the commentary is also included on the UHD disc.
Commentary – Featuring co-writer/director Dave Willis; actors Carey Means and Dana Snyder; and crew members Craig Hartin, Matt Foster, John Brestan, Nick Gibbons, Paul Painter, Ned Hastings, and Nick Ingkatanuwat. The participants are recorded together in roundtable fashion and seem to enjoy both each others’ company and seeing the finished film.
Aqua Teen Is Back (06:59) – This featurette includes real interviews with the show’s creators about the advances in animation techniques in the film, and fake interviews with the film’s characters about their personalities. This was called “Behind the Scenes” on the packaging.
Deleted Scenes (04:22) – Twenty-two deleted scenes can be played together or individually. They’re mostly very brief scene extensions, some of which consist of only a few words. Nothing vital was lost in removing these moments from the finished film. Seeing the Adult Swim logo repeatedly appearing between each and every brief snippet gets old fast.
Animatic with Full Textbot Script (01:20:27) – This is the special feature that is billed as an “alternate cut” on the packaging. It’s an animatic version of the film, including music, dialogue and sound effects. At times, a text commentary by the Mooninites scrolls over the visuals. It’s amusing in small servings but is a bit redundant when viewing immediately after the finished feature.
El Walko in SloMotiono (03:00) – A music video for the main title music, featuring live action footage of the voice cast walking in slow motion through a parking lot.
Aqua Teen Forever: Plantasm is unlikely to win over any new admirers, but is a delightful return to the world of Aqua Teen Hunger Force that should satisfy longtime fans. Though the feature-length adventure loses some of the trademark irreverence that the 11-minute episode format provided for, there are more than enough ridiculous scenarios, deep cut callbacks, obscene gestures and rude humor to enjoy. The disc also includes a nice array of bonus features on par with offerings from previous entries in the series, making this a worthwhile addition to any Aqua Teen collection.
Along with a quality disc-based presentation, the UHD/BD combo pack also includes a digital copy redeemable at Movies Anywhere in 4K resolution; like the disc, the streaming version does not include HDR.
Recommended for Aqua Teen fans!
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