Paul McCartney on DVDby Ed Perkis, contributing writer
Paul McCartney: song-writer, musician, singer, business tycoon, vegetarian, and animator? Well, yes and no. The title of the recently released Miramax DVD Paul McCartney: The Music and Animation Collection would lead one to believe that McDaddy is following in the tradition of Ub Iwerks rather than Cole Porter. However, British animator Geoff Dunbar is the actual visual talent behind the three short films (each about 15 minutes) in the collection. McCartney isn't just window dressing, though; he wrote the music and original songs, co-wrote two of the three shorts with his late wife, Linda (I'm assuming she was alive when they wrote them), provided voices for many of the characters, and produced each film. The prominent use of McCartney's name and picture in the marketing of this DVD is obviously meant to pull in Beatlemaniacs and McCartney-philes in addition to the family market. How well will those groups like this collection? Let's take a closer look at what you get.
Tropic Island Hum is a previously unreleased short film from McCartney and Dunbar, and features a McCartney song of the same name. The plot involves Wirral (voiced by McCartney), a squirrel, who flees from hunters (a brief non-heavy handed nod to McCartney's well-known animal rights views) in a hot air balloon that transports him to an animals-only island sanctuary. There, he watches a performance of the title song and, well, that's about it. The song is a fun kid-friendly ditty with a vaguely Jamaican feel. I actually liked it more than some of the tunes on McCartney's recent Driving Rain CD. The look of the hand-drawn animation is lush and colorful. Combine that with a fun song, positive message, and some kooky animals, and you haveif not an animated classicsurely a pleasant viewing experience for the whole family.
Tuesday, the second short film, was originally released in 2001 and was nominated for a British Academy Award. The film is based on a Caldacott Medal-winning children's book by David Wiesner. The story, about a group of frogs that fly their lily pads around on a certain Tuesday evening, is, like the book, almost wordless. The only audio is McCartney's unobtrusive score and the occasional human dialogue by Dustin Hoffmanhe literally has two lines, don't buy this DVD based on his name being on the package. The animation, while different and less Disney-like than Tropic Island Hum is faithful to the book and certainly fun to watch.
The final short is a film originally released in 1984, called Rupert and the Frog Song. The film, based on a long-running British comic strip character, Rupert Bear, won the British Academy Award for Best Animated Short and spawned a #3 hit single in the UK, We All Stand Together. McCartney voices young Rupert Bear as he gets lost on a day outing and ends up seeing a frog symphony perform the aforementioned tune. The tune is not McCartney's best work, even as a children's song. But if you consider the crap he was producing on some of his studio albums at the time, that shouldn't be surprising. Overall, this was the weakest film and somewhat shows its age, but certainly has some charm.
Overall, the three shorts are a good, if unspectacular, alternative to computer-based animation (the shorts are hand-drawn.) The music is good and the stories are as varied as the animation styles. McCartney's voice work can be a bit of a distraction, especially when he attempts to voice the bear-child Rupert. It sounds like Paul McCartney speaking in a high voice, rather than a kid.
The DVD includes a nice, but not excessive, selection of extras. In total, the extras add another hour or so to the 47 minutes of feature material. Included are a six-minute interview with McCartney conducted especially for the DVD. He explains his love for animation, how it was decided that he would do many the voices (he's Paul Flippin' McCartney, that's why), and notes that he is planning on a feature animated film in the near future. Considering some of his previous feature efforts are Magical Mystery Tour and Give My Regards to Broadstreet, I'm not sure he should be pushing his luck.
Other goodies include documentaries on the making of Tropic Island Hum and Tuesday and line tests and storyboards for all three shorts. The line tests are basically the entire films but in a work-in-progress form. They are not particularly interesting, but might be enjoyed by behind-the-scenes animation types. The documentaries include some basic how do you make an animated film type information that might be of interest to the kids. The package includes a colorful booklet with the lyrics to the two main songs, character sketches, plot summaries, and pictures of the creative process.
Video, Audio, and Interface
The shorts are presented in 1.85 aspect ratio. They look good. The colors, especially on Tropic Island Hum are crisp. Rupert and the Frog Song looks its age, but is still sharp. The audio is Dolby 5.1 surround sound, which sounds great.
The interface is narrated by McCartney and his alter-ego, Wirral. It might help the kids find what they are looking for. The transitions are fun and colorful.
The Final Evaluation
The list price for this DVD is $29.99. Should you pay that much? No way. The feature material is much less than an hour and of the three shorts, only two are really top notch. That said, if you can pick it up a bit cheaper and you are hungry for some animation that doesn't feel too Disneyish, this is a good quality set. McCartney's songs and music, especially the toe-tapping Tropic Island Hum make this a good buy for his fans, though not essential.