by David Cornelius
It seems today that all you see is violence in movies and sex on TV. But where are those good old family values on which we used to rely? Lucky there’s a Family Guy!It’s been a long, strange road for Fox’s TV series “Family Guy,” which had to fight off “Simpsons” comparisons first, then rabid network schedule juggling that kept it from finding proper viewership, and finally cancellation. Oh, and somewhere in there, it got (unfairly) booed by many critics (as well as other animators) as being one of the worst shows on TV. Then came the unexpected success of the reruns aired on Cartoon Network, followed by mammoth DVD sales. Cap it all off with Fox doing what never, ever, ever happens in the world of television: bringing the show back to the airwaves after years off the air. And it’s going stronger than ever.
All of this you probably know, but just in case, there you go. It’s information that helps explain “Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story,” a direct-to-video movie that, in the words of Asian Reporter Trisha Takinawa, “will soon be in the $3.99 bin at your local car wash.” The movie is actually three new episodes pasted together, bumpered at beginning, middle, and end with brief material regarding the show’s characters attending the “world premiere” of the film. This fact may disappoint some fans, who are expecting a full-on movie; it’s obvious that Fox plans to broadcast this at the network level very soon in the future, and a three-parter is easier to break up for airing.
It’s also obvious that this movie should have hit shelves months ago. The bumper material makes much about the show’s absence - the final scenes ask each character where they’ve been in the meantime - that doesn’t make much sense coming to us a season and a half after its return. Not, of course, that anyone will really mind the logic gap. (Has “Family Guy” ever been concerned with airtight continuity?) The jokes about the absence are funny enough, and besides, had this been used to bring the show back, we would’ve missed that glorious joke regarding Fox’s propensity for cancellation that kicked off the show’s fourth season.
The big reason this should’ve been released before the fourth season is that it’s not as consistently hilarious as the newer episodes have been. This is not to say that the movie isn’t funny - much to the contrary - but when you hear “Family Guy movie,” you tend to think “tops everything.” Instead, it merely matches everything. And as strong as the newest episodes of the show have been, matching it isn’t enough for a “video event” like this.
That said, even the most mediocre of “Family Guy” episodes are still far funnier than most things on television today - the series hasn’t even hinted at jumping the shark, making each week dependable for huge laughs - and “Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story” is no exception. Comedy-wise, the movie aims to give the fan base more of the same, only raunchier (the DVD includes an “uncensored” audio track, and it takes full advantage of it - although, wisely, not so much that they overdo it).
The plot, as much as there is one, involves baby Stewie’s attempts to go good, following a glimpse of hell. Typical of the “Family Guy” format, this plot doesn’t last long, and by the second chapter, we’ve sidetracked into the other main plot, in which Stewie sees a man on television who looks just like him. Convinced this mystery man is his true father, he and family dog Brian (both are voiced by series creator Seth McFarlane) make their way from Rhode Island to California to find him.
Subplots abound, although they come and go with each of the three episodes. The funniest of these involves Peter’s new job as Andy Rooney-esque TV news commentator, which gives Peter a chance to be his idiotic self (and us a chance to revisit my favorite supporting character, Ollie Williams of “Blackuweather” fame!). Later subplots, such as the one in which Peter and Lois decide to teach the kids how to get a date, doesn’t have the same zing - but this may be because so much emphasis is on Stewie’s tale that all other characters eventually get pushed aside.
While the story remains hit-and-miss throughout (which could change if the movie is broken back into its three episodes, thus restoring the proper pacing of each), the jokes are, for the most part, always on the button. The show’s traditional cutaway flashback scenes (the “this is like that time I…” gags) are in full force - although to say more would give away the best punchlines. Many of them rely on bad (very, very bad) taste, the results of which will depend entirely on the individual viewer. Me, I thought one gag involving Ray Charles was embarrassingly cruel, yet I found the one poking fun at Bugs Bunny cartoons to be a howl. Whatever floats your boat, I suppose. (Of course, we can all agree that anything involving Adam West is comedy gold.)There’s little else to say, at least without revealing all the really good jokes. Long story short: if you dig “Family Guy,” you’re going to dig this movie; if you don’t care for “Family Guy,” there’s no chance of you ever wanting to watch this one anyway. As for me, I liked this movie more than I like taffy. And I’m a man who enjoys his taffy.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=13122&reviewer=392
originally posted: 09/24/05 10:41:59