[17 April 2007]
It is impossible to discuss Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters without mentioning its severely limited audience. Like other movies, it’s a feature-length version of a television program. But the potential viewership narrows with other details: Aqua Teen Hunger Force airs on cable’s Cartoon Network (not network), part of Adult Swim (not the broader-based kids’ programming), and individual episodes run just 12 minutes or so.
It’s an animated series about the non-adventures of anthropomorphic fast food. Comprising the titular crime-fighting “force,” the three central characters fill archetypal comic roles: Master Shake (Dana Snyder) is the blowhard and troublemaker; Frylock (Carey Means) is the exasperated ringleader; and Meatwad (Matt Maiellaro) is the childlike dumb one (Master Shake offers stiff competition in this department).
The show’s style has been incorrectly tagged as “random,” because it seems more or less made up on the spot. But it so clearly springs from its creators’ weird, specific sensibilities that it only creates the illusion of randomness. It’s more like an improvised riff on low-budget Saturday morning cartoons, with gratuitous violence and bleeped profanities added in by semi-grown children. Old kids’ shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Transformers aren’t much more logical, but they are hokier and less upfront about their nonsense.
The film version of Aqua Teen Hunger Force (arriving in theaters just after the latest big-screen Ninja Turtle adventure) uses the show’s trademark digressions to stretch the material (and the profanity) to 86 minutes, with only has the slightest semblance of a beginning and end. For some reviewers, the lack of shape is exasperating. But I was impressed by the film’s experimental approach.
As the team must stop an evil exercise machine called the Insane-O-Flex from destroying the world, they also explore the mystery of their own origins. While such explanation is typical in movies about superheroes (whether they draw from TV shows or comic books), creators Maiellaro and Dave Willis satirize the convention here, offering no fewer than half a dozen different versions of the Aqua Teen genesis.
As they find themselves, the heroes are supported by an array of players from the series, including a cranky neighbor named Carl; a longwinded robot known as the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past; hell-bound rapper MC Pee Pants (Chris Ward); and a variety of cranky, aimless aliens. Some of these characters figure into the rambling Insane-O-Flex story, while others pop up for cameos that could be described as “crowd-pleasing,” depending on your definition of what constitutes a crowd.
Indeed, as almost every review has noted, non-fans will be left in the dark. But it might attract viewers with an interest in surreal, experimental comedy (it made some $3 million its first weekend, opening on just under 900 screens). At the same time, it might disappoint hardcore fans; like other cult shows turned into films—Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy (1996) or Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (1996)—Colon Movie Film doesn’t match the short bursts of inspiration of its TV counterpart, despite offering bigger laughs than most movie comedies. Aqua Teen Hunger Force is undoubtedly better suited to the 12-minute format, but the bizarre, sometimes hilarious, long version is a splendid joke unto itself.