Hellboy Animated: Sword of Storms

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 02/06/07 16:34:40

"Welcome back, Red."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

While we wait impatiently for the long-overdue “Hellboy” sequel to arrive in multiplexes, we can enjoy the appetizer that is “Hellboy Animated,” a series of new cartoon adventures starring the big red demon with the big stone fist. The first in this series, the clumsily titled “Hellboy Animated: Sword of Storms,” debuted on Cartoon Network just a few days before Halloween 2006 - the perfect time to unveil a project like this - and a follow-up is set to premiere in March.

For those unfamiliar with the franchise: Hellboy is the invention of comic book artist Mike Mignola; the character first appeared in 1993, and Mignola has since enjoyed both critical and commercial success with the series. As for Hellboy himself, he’s a demon who was brought to Earth by a gang of Nazis, only to be rescued and raised by the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, a secretive American outfit in charge of keeping the world safe from otherworldly nasties.

In other words, it’s a perfect fit for cartoon adventuring. Fans will smile at learning that the entire lead cast of the live-action film has returned for voice duty in the “Hellboy Animated” series: Ron Perlman (as Hellboy), Doug Jones (the fish-man Abe Sapien), and Selma Blair (fire-woman Liz Sherman). Meanwhile, John Hurt (as BPRD founder Professor Bruttenholm) is absent here but is set to return in the next cartoon, and Rupert Evans, whose FBI Agent John Myers character was an invention for the live-action film, does not appear here (as the cartoon aims to remain truer to the comics). He is replaced here with Peri Gilpin voicing BPRD honcho Kate Corrigan. The final kicker: Guillermo del Toro, writer/director of the live-action flick and longtime Hellboy fanatic, serves as a producer.

“Sword of Storms” uses some of Mignola’s own storylines as the basis for a bizarre little plot in which Hellboy gets transported into a strange Japanese dream world riddled with vampires, ghosts, spider queens, talking foxes, and floating heads. As is his custom, Hellboy takes it all in stride, going with the flow and muttering his trademark “oh, crap” whenever trouble brews. He’ll kick ass when necessary, and if that’s in a mystical world filled with floating heads, then fine by him.

Lavishly animated under the direction of Phil Weinstein (who previously helmed the direct-to-video “Balto” sequels) and supervising director Tad Stones (the longtime Disney vet behind the “Aladdin” sequels), “Sword of Stones” is a rich visual experience, far more than one would expect from a made-for-TV franchise project. Backgrounds are exquisitely detailed, and characters snap to life with a design that combines the sleek anime-pop designs of Warner Brothers’ DC Comics cartoons with Mignola’s own distinct look. Fans of quality animation will smile at seeing such textured, eye-popping work on display.

Matt Wayne’s screenplay then fills in the corners with small character touches - clever interplay here, smallish development (as in Liz’s continuing struggle to control her powers) there - that breathes energy and life into the down time. It may be a breezy fantasy-action romp, but it is one with a solid, character-driven foundation, which is often missing from other such animated adventures.

Indeed, “Sword of Storms” gets so very right what other cartoons aimed at older kids and their parents struggle to achieve (I’m looking at you, Marvel Animated Features). This adventure carefully mixes dark fantasy elements, intelligent character work, wild action, and a lighthearted, friendly tone, all complimented by terrific artwork. Only its brevity (a quick 77 minutes) keeps it from the heights of its live-action counterpart, but even a tight running time can’t stop it from being such great fun. This is Hellboy the way we want him, wild and sarcastic and ready for action.

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