Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Hellboy Animated: Sword of Storms

And he we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin.  You know the drill...I watch one of the movies I own and blog about it.  Don't get much simpler than that.  Today I watch Hellboy: Sword of Storms.  I originally watched it and blogged about it on March 2, 2019.

 After binging Shadow Raiders, I started going through my DVD shelves to see if there were any other forgotten animated classics gathering dust.  I happened upon the Hellboy Animated films, and with the reboot about to hit theatres, I figured it was time they got a re-watch. 

Let's go back in time to the mid-2000s.  DVD had become the fastest-growing home media format in history, and as such, one of the big buzzwords in Hollywood was "original DVD content."  That is, straight-to-DVD movies.  A lot of cult classics started getting straight-to-DVD sequels.  But, it was a boon to comic book and animation fans as they started cranking out straight-to-DVD animated films based on comic books.  Marvel teamed up with Lionsgate to produce a few Marvel films, which I found good but not great.  Warner Brothers got their animation division to crank out a series of DC Comics animated films...a series that continues to this very day.  Stan Lee even got in on the action, creating a couple of original heroes for the medium.  And in the middle of this all, the production company Starz Media teamed up with Hellboy creator Mike Mingola to produce a couple of really good Hellboy films under the banner Hellboy Animated.

Starz and Mingola got some A-list talent to work on these.  Heading up the project, and co-directing both films, was legendary Disney animator Tad Stones.  Stones worked on pretty much every Disney Afternoon show back in the day.  He was the showrunner on Chip 'n Dale's Rescue Rangers, Aladdin: The Series and Hercules: The Series.  The accomplishment he's most celebrated for these days is he's the creator of Darkwing Duck.  During the production of the Hellboy Animated films, Stones even kept a blog giving a highly-detailed account of their production, which you can still find online. 

But of course, they won acclaim for their voice talent.  Coming hot on the heels of the 2004 live-action film, they got the cast back to reprise their roles.  Selma Blair is back as Liz Sherman, Doug Jones is back as Abe Sapien, and in the role that fans love him in, Ron Perlman is back as big red himself, Hellboy.  That wasn't the only talent they  had on board from the 2000s films, as Hellboy and Hellboy 2 director Guillermo del Toro was also on board as an executive producer.  

It's funny...even though Doug Jones originated the role of Abe Sapien, doing these animated films won him the role.  Let me explain.  So, after playing Abe Sapien in the first film, the studio though Jones wasn't a strong enough actor to do the entire role, so they brought in Frasier star David Hyde Pierce to do Sapien's voice.  According to urban legend, Pierce thought Jones did a great job as Sapien, he chose to go uncredited.  Anyways, Jones was brought in to do Sapien's voice in these animated films, and upon watching these films, the studio said, "OK, he can pull it off.  Jones can use his own voice for Sapien in Hellboy 2."  And he did. 

So our first of the Hellboy Animated films is Sword of Storms, described by Stones as "the Alice in Wonderland tale."  Hellboy, Sherman, and Sapien come back from a mission.  While Sapien and Sherman settle in for some hard-earned downtime, Hellboy is dragged back into the field by Kate Corrigan for a mission in Japan.  An expert in Japanese folklore, Professor Sakai, has gone missing, after Sakia exhibited what looked to be paranormal powers as he went after an ancient Japanese sword.  Hellboy finds the sword in the wreckage, and upon picking it up, is transported to another realm that looks like medieval Japan. 

While reading an ancient scroll that got us into the mess, Professor Sakai delivers the necessary exposition to the audience.  Many years ago in Japan, the land was under siege by two storm demons known as Thunder and Lightening.  The daimyo struck a deal with the demons:  they would leave the land alone, in exchange for the life of the daimyo's daughter.  But, as always, true love throws a monkey wrench into things.  The daimyo's most trusted samurai was in love with the daimyo's daughter, and refused to go along with this plan.  The samurai sent his love to a remote shrine for safe-keeping, and then confronted the demons with an enchanted sword, imprisoning them within its blade.  This action actually enraged the daimyo, as it now looked like his word could not be trusted.  The daimyo pleaded with the gods to help him save face.  So, the gods turned the samurai to stone, and, in exchange, the daimyo had to sacrifice his daughter. 

So.  The sword that Hellboy now possesses is the one containing Thunder and Lightening.  The two demons have regained enough strength to possess Professor Sakai, but they need Hellboy to break the sword so they can regain their physical forms and full strength and bring about the end of the world.  And the only way for Hellboy to escape this land is to break the sword.  Hellboy says, "No deal," and begins his journey to find another way home.

And thus begins a series of Hellboy battling all kinds of monsters and demons from Japanese folklore, as they try to take the sword from him.  My favourite has to be Hellboy vs. the Kappa.  The Kappa is half-human/half-turtle creature said to lurk in rivers.  If you wander too close to a river, the kappa will reach out, pull you underwater, and drown you...which is what our kappa tries to do to Hellboy.  Now, the source of a kappa's power is the bowl full of water on its head.  If the bowl is emptied, the kappa becomes powerless.  A kindly old fisherman watching the battle informs Hellboy of this, so Hellboy hatches his plan.  Hellboy throws the kappa as far inland as he can, and then dangles the kappa upside down until the bowl is empty.  I just love the end.  Hellboy gives the dried out corpse of the kappa to the old fisherman and just deadpans, "Don't get it wet." 

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the demons to bring about the end of the world are starting to break on through, so Abe and Liz are on containment duty.  Again, a great sequence, and a great subversion of tropes.  Their plane goes down in the ocean.  Abe, a fish man, is fine, but Liz is trapped and starting to drown.  In order to keep Liz alive, Abe kisses Liz, thus giving her air.  Once they make it to safety on land, they have this exchange.
Liz:  So, umm, thanks, back there.

Abe:  You welcome.  I actually didn't know if that would work.  I mean, I've taken excess air into my stomach before and burped it out, but --


Props to Selma Blair.  I've found, in a lot these straight-to-DVD affairs, if it's some celebrity who's voice acting for the first time, their performance can come across a little flat.  But Blair and Jones both do a great job. 

Meanwhile, back in Japan, those nasty creatures finally tricked Hellboy into breaking the sword.  Hellboy now finds himself in a Tokyo park, with Thunder and Lightening towering over him.  They all throw down, but Hellboy is able to re-imprison them in the shattered shards of the sword.  But, the kabuki play must still be played out.  One of the BPRD agents is possessed by the spirit of the daimyo, and Corrigan is possessed by the spirit of his daughter.  As they're about to re-enact the the sacrifice all those years ago, Hellboy stops things by throwing a statue at the two...and the statue just happens to be that samurai who was turned to stone.  Breaking the statue frees the spirit of the samurai, and the samurai and the daimyo's daughter are finally reunited.  Hellboy reasons with the spirit of the daimyo, urging him to let it go and forgive the young lovers, or else this whole thing will play out again and again.  The daimyo does this, and all three restless spirits finally cross over. 

As the sun rises on Japan, Hellboy looks at his companions and says, "I could use an aspirin and some breakfast.  Who's with me?"  And they wander off, presumably in search of a diner. 

And that's Hellboy Animated: Sword of Storms.  It really was one of the better of the straight-to-DVD superhero films of the 2000s.  The animation is easily on par with the DC-Warner Brothers stuff.  The voice acting is great.  There's a pretty good plot, and you get to see Hellboy slug some monsters.  I don't know if it's available on any streaming platforms, but seek it out.

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