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For those of you not familiar with Michael Leunig’s work, he is best described as a bit of a social commentator, political satirist and genuine funny bloke, all through the medium known as cartooning. A morning highlight for readers of Melbourne newspaper, The Age, Leunig’s solitary cartoon cells ranged from being a mere chuckle to a philosophical conundrum, which is testament to his talent that he can evoke such a response with such limited page real estate. Consider his work a cross between Moby and the best of the cable comedy channels, with a mood that swings more often than Tarzan. The man is definitely unique, highly respected and presents great fodder for a left-of-centre DVD release.

The Show
Australian actor Bryan Brown was the man behind this release, apparently coaxing a reluctant Michael Leunig into approving the work painstakingly created by a dedicated team of animators. When another successful Aussie screen presence, Sam Neill, was brought in for the narration it was obvious Leunig was no ordinary cartoonist, rather a man who entertains and stimulates the mind with mere drawings on a page.

The choice for this lot was which medium best suited the style of Leunig and his big-nosed yet big-hearted characters. While some may argue there were many other forms of animation that would’ve been just as effective, not to mention much, much cheaper, the choice to use claymation is vindicated the minute you lay your eyes on the detail and depth created by this delicate stop-motion technique.

Leunig Animated

What resulted was a collection of 50 one-minute animations covering the wide array of topics Leunig throws up in his daily newspaper pieces. But don’t go expecting anything really ground-breaking, as they really are just one-minute pieces designed more to evoke certain responses than have you glued to the screen in amazement or doubled over with laughter. The credit sequence after each short becomes very tiresome very quickly and could easily have been chopped off the end of each piece to provide the much-needed flow the cartoons crave. The structure of the shorts themselves are quite appropriate, divided into five sections entitled Playful, Melancholy, Bliss, Ironic and Whimsy (whatever that means). While these may seem a little incongruous to some, especially after watching each of the categories and realising many of them are quite similar, these sections do create some sort of system whereby the user can pick a cartoon to suit their mood.

After viewing this DVD it’s hard not to think Leunig was right with his reservations. Maybe he is really only suited to the print medium, where he can continue suggesting and provoking whilst leaving the rest up to the reader. With animation it’s almost all spelt out for the viewer and those that aren’t quite as clear end up as little more than confusing. Of course a lot of magic is presented in these shorts and a large number of them are actually quite entertaining, but the fact that the flow is interrupted by needless credit sequences and that Leunig’s fundamental point with all his cartoons seems to be lost in the animation can’t be ignored.

The upside is we are given a slightly different perspective on Leunig’s work, which could well be a refreshing change for those used to seeing his cartoons in the newspaper. The essence of his work changes slightly with the animation but still seems to captivate like only Michael Leunig can.

Fans of his work with the newspaper will probably enjoy a bit of movement from his cute little characters, while others may well revel in something a little different to watch every now and then. For those not so enamoured with the enigma that is Michael Leunig, don’t expect too much from this set and you could get a bit of a kick that sets your brain working like precious few other programs do nowadays.

Leunig Animated

Video
DVD is animation’s best friend, so it comes as no surprise that this 1.78:1, 16:9 enhanced transfer is emphatically triumphant. The colour palette is quite broad so it’s a real treat to see everything so vibrant and deep, with every ounce of sharpness maintained. Claymation is naturally an attractive form of animation and the visuals on this disc are no exception. Not one blemish on the print, no grain to be seen and the detail maintained throughout, right down to watching the clay change a little as every frame goes by. Stunning.

Audio
With all stops being pulled out to even get this stuff on DVD in the first place it would’ve been almost acceptable if something was a little under par. Thankfully it’s actually gone the other way, with the soundtrack on this DVD bumped up to a 5.1 mix from the Dolby Stereo originally used to broadcast the shorts. And again, animation lends itself to the DVD format, where the audio mixers can get creative with their use of the surrounds and the subwoofer, heightening Leunig’s “out-of-this-world” world by immersing us in ambience and sound effects the whole way through. For a series such as this one it’s a very pleasant surprise to hear such a great little soundtrack, and full marks to those who gave us the pleasure.

Extras
This two-disc set is one impressive package, starting with the wonderful foldout slipcase package and the brilliant artwork to go with it. When we slip in disc one and head to the extras section we are greeted with four sub-menus, all brimming with goodies for us to enjoy.

First up is the Production section, where we can view four original cartoons from Leunig then use a nifty little feature to watch the animated short associated with it. Next there are fifteen pages of production notes detailing just how they came about making the animations and the steps taken to get them to the final product. There’s some good detail about the process so it’s a cut above your usual fluffy text-based notes. Then there’s production stills, which mock real-life films by having some “behind the scenes” shots of the shoot. Quite amusing and well worth a look. The final part of this section is Freerange, another text-based extra that tells us a bit about the animation company involved in the production.

Leunig Animated

The next section on disc one is called Awards, which is merely two pages of text telling us which awards the shorts took out in various film festivals and the like. The third section is entitled Biographies and is pretty obvious in that it contains information on all the main players such as Leunig, Sam Neill and Bryan Brown. The final section is called Madman Propaganda and is a strange, shameless plug for this very DVD. Bizarre.

Moving on to disc two we have the guts of the extras package, a 55-minute documentary entitled The Animated Leunig. This contains everything you’d want to know about the production, how it came about, who was involved and general fly-on-the-wall stuff of meetings which really gives us an insight into the process of creating the animations. This is great stuff and will appease both Leunig and animation fans alike.

The rest of disc two contains outtakes, where we see a high-speed static shot of six sets and watch as it shows everyone buzzing around and moving the clay characters bit by bit. Then there’s additional music which obviously gives us some music tracks not used in the shorts, and two TV commercials advertising the DVD. Overall this is a solid package that covers everything about the production succinctly, with the documentary being a high quality cut that makes this extras section nothing short of top notch.

Leunig Animated

Overall
Leunig fans need not read any further. You have to have this disc because it’s a great moving representation of the man’s work. I still feel that his greatest impact lies in the daily print cartoons but these animations capture a different sense of his work, something which may or may not appeal to non-Leunig devotees. But there’s no doubting this package is brilliant. Everything from the video, audio and extras is well above average and provides a great two-disc set worthy of anyone’s collection.

*Note that this title is encoded as All-Region and will work on DVD players worldwide.


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