This is a great idea for a children’s video. Our Friend Martin is an animated film that follows the Dickens Christmas Carol format to tell the story of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. When two boys (an underachieving African-American and his slacker white counterpart) visit the birthplace of Dr. King on a school field trip, they are magically transported back in time to experience monumental events in the civil rights movement. Along their journey, they learn of the legacy of Dr. King, and of his…importance to our modern American way of life.
Many A-list actors have provided their voice talent for the production, including Ed Asner, Susan Sarandon, Whoopi Goldberg, Samuel A. Jackson, Angela Bassett and John Travolta. Part of the fun of watching the film was trying to pick out which actor was voicing what character. Surprisingly, however, much of the voice talent is weak, and only a few actors (such as James Earl Jones and the aforementioned Sarandon) really grasp the intricacies of providing a voice for an animated character. Particularly bad is the “surfer hick” accent of the white main character.
While this is may not be a very entertaining piece for adults, children could definitely benefit from the lessons in this historically-accurate film. As far as “After School Special”-style programs go, this is definitely one of the better ones that I have seen.
For an animated educational title, this film carries a pretty decent soundtrack. The hip-hop and gospel score provides some pretty decent low end. The notes are tight and not boomy… just as it should be. The audio also benefits from a wide open, apparently compression-free mix, which allows the tones to roam freely across the full sound spectrum. Dialog is very clear and easy to discern, since (of course) all audio was recorded in a studio, eliminating the challenges of recording on a set or on location.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell how good the video quality is on an animated feature. By definition, the picture is supposed to look comical and over-the-top. This title, however, seems a little to bright and cheery. Panels are dripping with color, making some tones bleed outside of their boundaries. Similarly, the animation is of a very simple style, which adds to the amateurish feel of the video presentation.
However, the production makes up some points by incorporating actual archival footage and photographs in with the animation. At first I was getting some South Park flashbacks, but after a while, I really started to enjoy this presentation style, especially when I began to see how well the live footage had been blended in to the animation, and vice-versa. It’s great for kids to be able to watch an easily-palatable cartoon about this important topic, yet still get to see some of the actual historical footage of these events as well.
No special features are available on this title whatsoever. Interviews with the voice talent, set-top games or bonus archival footage really would have added a lot to this production. It’s a shame they are not included here.
While this is certainly not a film that will appeal to everyone, I feel that it is a great fit for its target audience. The struggles of the civil rights movement can very easily be forgotten in our modern society, and it is important to teach our children the importance of Dr. King’s message of love and pacifistic resistance to lead social change. This disc is an excellent way to teach those lessons, and to start a dialog with your child on this very important topic.