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Thor: Legend of the Magical Hammer DVD Review

Thor: Legend of the Magical Hammer (2011) DVD cover art - click to buy DVD exclusively at Walmart.com Thor: Legend of the Magical Hammer

Running Time: 83 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Óskar Jónasson; Toby Genkel, Gunnar Karlsson (co-directors) / Writers: Friðrik Erlingsson (screenplay); Óskar Jónasson, Toby Genkel (additional script writing), Mark Hodkinson (dialogue); Snorri Sturluson (characters and stories)

Voice Cast: Justin Gregg (Thor), Paul Tylak (Crusher), Nicola Coughlan (Edda), Liz Lloyd (Hel), Alan Stanford (Odin), Mary Murray (Freyja), J. Drew Lucas (Thrym), Emmett Scanlan (Sindri), Lesa Thurman (Mother), Paul Tylak (Heimdall), Rod Goodall (Gunther), Gary Hetzler (Grandpa)

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen; Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Extra Not Subtitled; Movie Closed Captioned
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Slipcover
DVD Release Date: January 15, 2013 (Walmart), March 19, 2013 (general retail)
Suggested Retail Price: $20.99

Buy Thor: Legend of the Magical Hammer on DVD: WalmartAmazon

Computer animated films were initially the exclusive domain of Pixar. Then, DreamWorks Animation got into the act with Antz (1998) arriving just in time to try to make A Bug's Life look like a copycat. By 2002, the class had grown to include Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius and Blue Sky's Ice Age, among others. The box office numbers continued to soar and the technology continued to spread.
The market reached saturation in 2005-06, when hardly a month went by without a major new CG family film opening in thousands of American theaters.

The glut of output released in that span revealed a couple of things about the medium: 1) it alone did not guarantee commercial success, as it had seemed to for the format's first decade in existence and 2) cheaper efforts were the ones most likely to fail. For every Hoodwinked turning a healthy profit, there were three lower-budget efforts like Everyone's Hero and imports Valiant and Doogal that were losing money for their producers and distributors. Those lessons have been heeded in Hollywood, where computer animated comedies continue to flourish... but primarily from just a few established major American studios. CG 'toons made outside of those institutions -- e.g. Astro Boy, Battle for Terra, Planet 51, 9 -- have typically floundered and grown scarce in theaters. They're still being made, cost-effectively or not, but they're unlikely to turn up on your radar.

One such fringe production is Thor: Legend of the Magical Hammer, a film released straight to DVD today as a Walmart exclusive by small indie studio ARC Entertainment. The film is actually a product of Iceland, where it was released theatrically in the fall of 2011 (titled Hetjur Valhallar - Þór, literally Legends of Valhalla: Thor) as the nation's first full-length animated film. Thor is also the feature debut of CAOZ, a company that has made three short films, including the 26-minute Anna and the Moods (2007), featuring narration by Monty Python's Terry Jones and a titular heroine voiced, of course, by Björk.

Thor and his mother get their first look at the Crusher, the subtitular magical hammer.

This Thor is indeed the same figure of Norse mythology and Marvel Comics, but here, he's less of a long-haired blonde hunk and more of a gawky redheaded teenager. The son of the god Odin and a human peasant woman, Thor is a blacksmith, per his mother's wishes, but he'd rather be a warrior. Adventure and opportunities for heroism come his way in the form of the Crusher, a talking golden hammer with eyes and a face. It is the most powerful weapon in the universe, created by Sindri, a tiny magician who's met with scoffs and skepticism, even by Odin himself, who loses an eye in a demonstration on a visit to Valhalla.

The magician winds up with Odin's eye, which he then gives to Hel, Odin's Eartha Kitt-esque enemy, the Ice Queen of the Underworld herself, to soften his punishment by her. The hammer, meanwhile, winds up in Thor's possession and he takes the time needed to familiarize himself with its thunderous power. The Ice Queen wants to oust Odin and take over Valhalla, a goal her frosty giants serve but one that requires the Crusher. Thor, partially motivated by his mother's icy kidnapping, stands up to the Queen and her beasts.

Valhalla's gatekeeper isn't letting "fat elf" Sindri (the hammer's creator) in. Ice queen Hel gives Thor a choice: turn over the hammer or best friend Edda gets sliced.

Thor features ugly character design, which the DVD's front cover interestingly and utterly betrays. The film's animation makes you appreciate the sophistication and detail you take for granted in the best-looking CGI these days. Like most new US animation, this film was made for 3D, a fact you suspect in some loud gimmicky dimensional effects (even as a Blu-ray 3D edition and, for that matter, even a standard Blu-ray remain unavailable).

You can tell that Thor does not fit the American animated family film mold perfectly, but also that its makers seem to be aiming for that with a blend of action, comedy, and fantasy.
Thor deserves its PG rating, not out of the MPAA's increasing reluctance to issue a G, but because it's got some content that could easily unsettle the youngsters whose parents might see the cover and think "inexpensive babysitter."

VIDEO and AUDIO

Computer animation usually upholds perfection on disc, as the result of its direct digital to digital transfer. I assume that is what has occurred here, which explains why Thor's 2.40:1 transfer isn't harmed by anything but the limitations of standard definition video. As the unknown names comprising the voice cast list above suggest, the DVD presents the film exclusively in American English, with no option to hear the original Icelandic it was presumably presented in. Nonetheless, the words match the mouth movements perfectly, so this doesn't appear to have been a hasty dub or afterthought. That English mix is offered in Dolby Digital 5.1 and plain stereo. The default former is quite potent, with a number of sequences commanding notice with their sound design and the bass strongly resonating. Deduct points for the complete lack of subtitles, as closed captioning alone doesn't really cut it in this age of HDMI connections.

Thor proudly advertises the 3D nature of his film in this "Thor: Legend of the Magical Hammer" trailer. The DVD's main menu places a large golden oval playing clips on the bridge between Valhalla and an icy mountain.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The disc's only bonus feature is a Thor trailer (1:40), which touts the film's 3D nature.

The disc opens with trailers for the weak-looking CGI films Reef 2: High Tide,
Jock the Hero Dog, and Animals United plus one for the sappy live-action dud Heaven's Door, whose two months of Walmart exclusivity will be echoed here. None of these previews are accessible by menu.

Beyond that, the DVD does include an insert with your unique code for accessing a digital copy of the film. ARC Entertainment has apparently partnered with a service called VUDU to allow you to stream the film on your computer or Blu-ray player. A VUDU account, which does not appear to be free, is required, making this less complimentary than what bigger studios offer in this regard.

The menu plays clips in a golden oval placed on the bridge between Valhalla and wherever it is this Thor is supposed to live.

The black Eco-Box keepcase is topped by an embossed foil-faced slipcover.

Thor isn't ecstatic to reconnect with his now one-eyed god father Odin. Hel wants Valhalla and that hammer.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Thor: Legend of the Magical Hammer is not as terrible as a look at its cover would lead the discerning animation enthusiast to suspect. But Iceland's first animated feature is also not all that good.

While Iceland has as much claim to the character as anyone and this film has some creative ideas in adapting the mythology, there ultimately isn't much to enjoy about this. It will have difficulty finding the right audience, looking too childish for those who might like it, but being too dark and action-oriented for the kids more likely to see it. There aren't really specific complaints to lob at the film; it's just that everything from characters to story to comedy to visuals is terribly unremarkable. It's the kind of movie I expect to wake up tomorrow remembering nothing of and I was watching closely and analytically.

Buy Thor: Legend of the Magical Hammer on DVD: Walmart (now) / Amazon (later)

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Reviewed January 15, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2013 ARC Entertainment, 2011 CAOZ, Ulysses Filmproduktion, and Magma Productions.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.