October 7, 2005

Victory is Mine!

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Straight-to-DVD is a moniker usually reserved for all those incredibly lame and commercially inviable Disney sequels like Cinderella II or the yet-to-be released Bambi II – a “mid-quel” that’s already being hailed on IMDB.com as “your basic teenage angst tale” starring Star Trek’s Patrick Stewart as Bambi’s father.

So the confusion surrounding comic prodigy Seth MacFarlane’s decision to release his long-awaited Family Guy movie Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story on such a platform is most definitely understandable. It’s true, DVDs were responsible for the series’ unprecedented rebirth and seizure of The Simpsons’ hallowed spot on Sunday night TV, but MacFarlane could have easily purveyed his small screen success to the big screen given Hollywood’s pathetic state of affairs. Something just didn’t seem quite right here.

Unfortunately, The Untold Story did nothing but confirm my earlier suspicions. Sure, it looks like Family Guy, sounds like Family Guy and has the same brand of sarcastic, ranting, and downright nonsensical humor as Family Guy, but The Untold Story is only marginally better than its other straight-to-DVD counterparts and that is by no means an underhanded compliment. It kicks things off with an inane five-minute long and uncharacteristically unfunny introduction. A reference to early 20th-century Italian anarchists Sacco and Vanzeeti? Sure, it’s cute, but come on, we expect and deserve better. MacFarlane takes some not-so-subtle stabs at rival comedies like Fox’s Futurama and ABC’s According to Jim.

Then the intro tries to redeem itself by cramming in regulars like Greased-up Deaf Guy, Blackuweather meteorologist Ollie Williams, the Kool-Aid guy, the Evil Monkey in Chris’s closet and even David Bowie, but it’s far too little too late. Alright, so maybe that’s a little bit of an overreaction given that it’s still early on, but so much for making a good first impression. News anchors Tom Tucker and Diane then cut to their hidden camera man providing them with a bootleg copy, which isn’t all that funny until you consider the fact that most hardcore fans of the show have already seen the movie thanks to actual bootleg copies (thank you DC++). And after a couple green movie preview screen jokes and a dry poke at Vince Vaughn, Susan Sarandon and Randy Newman, the real show begins.

However, the meat-and-potatoes plotline doesn’t fare too much better. Judging by the ridiculously unoriginal title, the storyline predictably revolves around everyone’s favorite matricidal, Napoleonic tot, Stewie who has a bit of a near-death experience at the community pool. After getting a taste of a hell only MacFarlane could imagine with its shabby motel room layout and a TV that perpetually plays the Who’s the Boss? theme song, Stewie decides to change his ways. He tries to become a model citizen before realizing that he can’t go against his natural grain and so logically turns to alcohol, his reasoning being “If I’m drunk then I’ll be calm. If I’m calm, I’ll be nice and then I won’t go to hell!”

When Stewie’s alcoholism takes a turn for the worse – his drunk stunt off the highchair is probably the funniest part in the movie aside from the Wilfred Brimley “I have diabetes” commercial parody – Stewie decides to accept his fate. That is until he and Brian come across a look-alike thanks to the magic of TiVo who could potentially be Stewie’s real father living in San Francisco. After Stewie convinces Brian to come along, the duo steal away on Quagmire’s Wannabango as he makes his way on a “Cross-Cuntry Tour” (the sign is intentionally missing an “o” in country, as Quagmire has other aims). The rest of the movie follows Stewie and Brian on their search and their subsequent misadventures.

While it sounds like a great premise, however, the plot fails to deliver. Don’t get me wrong; there’s no shortage of laugh-worthy material. The problem is that while there are hilarious references to a wide variety of things – from a skit depicting the true origins of Casper the ghost as one of Stewie’s victims to a reference to Steve Bartman and even a brilliant allusion to Star Wars and “droids you were looking for”-much of the humor is too crude, too repetitive or just plain subpar in terms of Family Guy standards (like a rather callous reference to Ray Charles’ blindness.) The problem is that the whole movie seems like unused material for other episodes recklessly strung together around a very slow plotline. MacFarlane would have been better off splitting The Untold Story into three separate episodes as he originally intended. In the movie, Asian reporter Trisha Takanawa calls The Untold Story “a straight to DVD-feature that will soon be in the $3.99 bin of your local car wash” and while she may have been joking, that seems to unfortunately be the case.

Archived article by Zaki Rahaman
Sun Contributor