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Samurai Jack: The Premiere Movie

What a grand time it is to be a cartoon character. The current renaissance in animation — from big-screen computer-assisted features to new TV series extending traditional techniques on WB, Fox, and the Cartoon Network — is generating a whole new wave of devoted audiences and serious critical appreciation. So it's also a good time to be Genndy Tartakovsky, the mastermind behind such Cartoon Network hit series as Dexter's Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, and most notably Samurai Jack. The Samurai Jack: The Premiere Movie DVD is sure to please fans and enlighten newbies. It offers up the eponymous hero's origin story, plus a bonus episode and a fine selection of supplements.

The 70-minute pilot tells the heroic epic tale of a medieval Japanese boy prince who witnesses the destruction of his land and the capture of his father by the hands of Aku, a monstrous demon of supreme evil and world-conquering goals. The youngster travels alone throughout the world to be trained until manhood by fighters, thinkers, and wise men of many cultures. Like an Asian Clint Eastwood, our stoic warrior prince returns to his homeland to do righteous battle against Aku. But victory is not easy, or else there'd be no TV series. Thrust into the distant future by Aku's black magic, the samurai finds himself a stranger in a very strange land, a techno-hell where Aku reigns supreme because that's the way it's always been. Taking the name "Jack," he must vanquish Aku's hordes of robot battle beetles, thus saving a group of talking dog archeologists before moving on in his lonely quest to find a way back through time to defeat Aku before the millennia of tyranny can begin.

It's fun stuff delivered in a beautiful, pristine print that shows off Samurai Jack's gorgeous, painterly visual style. Still drawn and inked largely by hand, this inventive new style for minimalist animation makes the old Hanna-Barbera 'toons look like cardboard cutouts. Things get a little silly once the talking dogs arrive, and perhaps the climactic battle goes on a bit too long, but this lovely amalgamation of Japanese mythic tones and modern animated storytelling may just prove that Tartakovsky's team are among the DaVincis of this particular renaissance.

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Warner's Samurai Jack: The Premiere Movie features a clean full-frame transfer (1.33:1), with robust audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 or DD 2.0 stereo options.

Supplements include a 22-minute bonus episode that's even better than the movie, a 10-minute behind-the-scenes documentary packing more substance than most other "featurettes" manage in 30 minutes, a well-made eight-minute "Archives" montage of concept sketches and art, a "sneak peak" at the Summer 2002 Powerpuff Girls movie, and DVD-ROM features (games, wallpaper, screensaver, plus links to the Cartoon Network and Warner Brothers Web sites). Snap-case.

—Mark Bourne

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