BLU-RAY REVIEW: Marvel Animated Thor: Tales of Asgard
Join young Thor and Loki for epic adventures...
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The name Thor brings many images to mind, though the majority of Americans will now correlate it with the feature film starring Chris Hemsworth. Beyond that, though, there’s a rich history of the Norse god of thunder stretching from ancient times through the pages of Marvel Comics today. Worshipped long ago by Germanic and Norse peoples, Thor is the son of Odin, king of the gods. He is a mighty warrior and wields the mystical hammer Mjollnir, a weapon of immense power. Thor’s popularity and appeal lasted well after his worship faded into mythology, and we mention his name every week in “Thursday.” Thor’s modern popularity began in 1962, and this year sees not just one film, but two dedicated to the hero; while Branagh’s blockbuster plays in theatres another story has just been released on Blu-ray and DVD, Thor: Tales of Asgard!
When it came time to create a brand new hero for the series Journey into Mystery in 1962, editor Stan Lee joined with Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby. To create a powerhouse capable of taking on the biggest threats they turned to Norse mythology and thus Thor was reborn. That began decades of “godly” storytelling bringing wondrous characters and places to the pages of Marvel Comics, once seen only in ancient epics and mythology textbooks. This Thor embodied the classical ideals of heroism and even spoke with Shakespearean language (and often stylized text). And yet, there was a unique humanizing element in the stories that made the god approachable. Sent to Earth to learn humility and responsibility by Odin, Thor was merged with a disabled and very human medical student. Together the two halves made up one rounded character, and Thor continues to share time with Dr. Blake even today.
While Thor has had plenty of adventures in comics, on television (appearing on the classic Incredible Hulk show as well as numerous animated movies and series like the current Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes), and in films, only a few stories have been told about the youth who would grow into the mighty thunder god. Thor: Tales of Asgard takes a look at a young Thor, living in Asgard and training to be a warrior. It’s an exciting combination of a traditional heroic quest with travel, heroes and villains, betrayals, major battles, and more. It’s also a family story looking at the brotherhood partnership of Thor and Loki as well as the father/son dynamic of the pair and Odin. There’s something for everyone, with strange lands, venturing into the unknown, burgeoning romance, some bawdy comedy, and plenty of fighting in brawls, duels, and all out war.
At the outset, Thor is a young man full of fighting spirit and proficient with the sword. Confined to Asgard by his father, the king, Thor can’t wait for glorious adventures. Meanwhile, his brother Loki practices his magic, showing great potential. Not all is well, however, as the young lady warrior Sif implies that Thor is sheltered and not quite as skilled as he thinks. Passing by the boasting Warriors Three (Volstagg, Fandral, and Hogun), Thor decides that he and Loki will accompany them on their next mission, seeking out the mythical Sword of Surtur in the land of the Frost Giants! Little does he know that their travels would take them across the Nine Realms and bring Asgard to war. With friendships solidified and enemies vanquished, the heroes take their place of honor, but not all is as it seems. Tales of Asgard contains plenty of hints at things to come like Mjollnir and Loki’s discovery of his heritage and what that will do to him. In many ways the animated film is a great introduction to the stories of the Asgardians before seeing the theatrical film.
Thor: Tales of Asgard introduces most of the main characters from Asgard and related realms. The main protagonists are of course the dynamic duo of Thor and Loki. As in other coming of age stories, Thor starts out an impetuous brat and starts on the road to humility and responsibility along the way. Loki, ever the trickster, starts out too with good intentions and family loyalty but learns that not everything is what it seems. Joining them on their great adventure are Volstagg, Fandral, and Hogun who like in the Hollywood film steal the scenes they’re in with great physical and verbal comedy. Odin juggles the dual roles of king of Asgard and doting father trying to do the right thing, but unfortunately that doesn’t always work. Sif provides an interesting counterpoint to Thor, running away to train with the Valkyries and eventually proving herself on the field of war. Algrim, a lesser known character from the comics, is Odin’s assistant and the last of the Dark Elves. Seemingly a stout steward and friend to Thor and Loki, Algrim holds great hatred in his heart for those who destroyed his people. Finally, the Nine Realms are populated by Asgardians, Frost Giants, Valkyries, and other interesting characters.
Matching the character designs and interpretations is a strong voice cast made up of old hands and newcomers alike. Thor is played by Matthew Wolf, who previously portrayed the adult god of thunder in Hulk Vs. Here Wolf trends the character younger, but with the same intensity and fierceness. Veterans Rick Gomez, Chris Britton, Paul Dobson, and Jonathan Holmes voice Loki, Odin, Hogun and Fandral respectively, while big names Grey DeLisle and Clancy Brown appear as Sif and Frost Giant. Much care was taken to differentiate the voices so that despite a large cast of burly male warriors you can really hear the different characters; there’s no mistaking Volstagg for Hogun!
The animation in this film combines traditional drawing techniques and cell shaded CG animation. The character designs are bold and bright, with lots of solid colors and thick lines. The feel is a little bit anime, a little bit Disney, with the (plentiful) action is smooth and fluid. Director Sam Liu brings a wealth of animation experience (on both Marvel and DC features) to bear here, easily switching between epic battles and emotional scenes. The visuals really pop on Blu-ray with a clean transfer. Of particular note is the opening credit sequence, a beautiful story in and of itself winding through the Nine Realms and giving hints at the action to come.
Once you’ve seen the main feature, there’s still plenty more to enjoy! Tales of Asgard comes packed with special features like two commentary tracks featuring Supervising Producer Craig Kyle and Screenwriter Greg Johnson, as well as Supervising Director Gary Hartle, Animation Director Sam Liu and Character Designer Phil Bourassa. “Worthy: The Making of Thor: Tales of Asgard” takes you behind the scenes with the film’s creators. They discuss everything that went into the feature from start to finish, including really interesting commentary on the character of Thor, the art styles, and much more. Finally, there’s a bonus episode from the hit TV series Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, of course featuring Thor!
Thor: Tales of Asgard is available now on DVD only for $19.98 and Blu-ray/DVD combo pack for $29.99 (in addition to Digital Download and On Demand). While fans of all ages will enjoy learning more about Thor’s past and building up the character they know and love from the blockbuster film, kids especially will love Tales. Just like the classic cartoons of our youth, the film shows relatable young heroes going on epic journeys and learning valuable life lessons. Check it out today and prepare for adventure!
Review by Scott Rubin
Review Sample Courtesy of Lionsgate