When the announcement was first made, I was excited about the prospect of a Dragonlance animated movie. As the voice cast was announced, I was even more excited. Some big names were there- Kiefer as Raistlin!- which made me think they were sparing no expense in making a cherished novel from my teenage years into a quality movie.
When the trailer debuted, my faith wavered a bit. I still decided to reserve judgment until I had seen the final product.
Well, I rented it from Netflix. And I have to say, I’m disappointed.
(For the purposes of the review, I’m assuming some familiarity with the original book. From that, there will be spoilers.)
First, as seen in the trailer, the movie blends 2D animation (for most things, like people and scenery) and 3D animation (for dragons, and some other random things for some reason.) Not only do the two styles not go together, the parts where they interact looks weird and doesn’t line up. When the dragon Khisanth puts her claw on Raistlin, you want to say “just wriggle out of there” because they don’t look like they’re touching. There’s even a scene where the Heroes of the Lance come across some Draconians dressed as Monks, and the Monk robes are 3D… giving away that there’s something not right.
Not only that, but the animation is terrible. Normally I try not to be nitpicky about technical details like that, but it really detracts and distracts from the story. Simple camera pans are jerky. There are random closeups on faces and cleavage, animated loops are reused, and there’s no fluidity at all. Fight scenes that should be epic are hard to follow, and they decide sometimes there should be blood when stabbed, and sometimes not. Everything comes off as cheap, and it’s really unfortunate.
In broad strokes, the story of the first book is there. It’s always tough to condense a book down into an hour and a half movie while still feeling faithful to the original. Dragonlance tries to solve that problem by rushing everything. The major scenes are there from the book, but barely take any time. Fights are resolved quickly. Long journeys go by in a flash. By the time you get used to being in one location for the story, it jumps somewhere else, and you wonder how you got there. There’s not enough time to establish the gravitas of a particular situation.
Even the voice acting is fairly blasé. The bigger names don’t get too many lines, and it mostly seems like they don’t care. Michael Rosenbaum voices Tanis, who has the most lines. He does a serviceable job, though often times it’s hard to shake the cheery overtones that he used when voicing The Flash, which isn’t appropriate for many of the scenes where Tanis is struggling with personal issues.Even the great Phil LaMarr, one of the best in the business, sounds bland as Riverwind. Obviously without a great voice directory like Andrea Romano the film suffers. Simply put, the voices are largely appropriate to the character, but the deliveries need some work.
At least in some ways the movie is faithful to D&D (though not to the book, per se.) Dragonlord Verminaard falls from the skies then gets up unharmed. Clerics are better than other characters. Raistlin explains his spell-casting in very D&Dish ways, and casts in the classic wizard way. However, one of my favorite scenes from the book is ruined: Fizban saying, “What was that spell again? Oh yes, fireball!” is there, but then he proceeds to throw a magic bowling ball that knocks over some draconians instead of being the explosive 3rd level spell we all know and love. Speaking of Fizban, they completely reveal that he’s Paladine in the movie, instead of being a much later surprise.
The DVD has two extras: some color tests, and some pencil tests, both unnarrated. There is no commentary.
Simply put, this movie is a mess. It’s still a vaguely enjoyable feeling seeing the book on screen, and fun to see the characters. But die-hard fans will almost certainly hate the shoddy treatment given to the series. I realize that getting a budget for a niche project like this was probably difficult, but they should have spent the budget on animation instead of on voice talent who by and large sound like they don’t want to be there. Dragonlance fans out there may want to see it for themselves anyway, but I recommend renting it first. It’s a shame that the first one had to be so poorly done as to make it difficult for any future adaptations to get made, instead of wowing the audience right away.