Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Straight-To-DVD Exploitation Meets Family Guy With Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story!

The Good: FUNNY, Good commentary track, Decent story, Generally worthwhile for fans
The Bad: Comparatively pricey
The Basics: When Family Guy does a straight-to-DVD feature, there's enough value to make it worthwhile for the fans or anyone looking to see what Family Guy is all about!

Family Guy does very little that exploits its fan base in a negative way. Sure, the producers released "The Freakin' Sweet Collection" with a single scene reinserted and a commentary track that true fans of the series simply needed to have, but generally they respect the fans just enough to not take them for every dollar they possibly can. When the show was working toward returning to television with its fourth season, Family Guy released a straight-to-DVD production called Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story. While the feature-length film was later broken into three episodes for broadcast, this is the only way to find the production on DVD, which is decent; the producers did not waste space in the later boxed sets to resell fans what they had already (likely) bought with this set.

Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story, then, is a Family Guy movie that is self referential and is just classy enough to poke fun at itself. As a result, the film begins as an acknowledgment of exactly what it is. And the DVD takes a few risks in terms of language and content that the show would not likely be able to get away with on television.

When Stewie has a near-death experience, he begins to act nice, an act which Brian (the dog) sees right through. While Peter focuses on his new job as a television commentator, Brian sets out to prove Stewie's kindness is an act. Exposing Stewie as a fraud puts Stewie in a bad place emotionally and he ends up drunk and in trouble. While he recovers, Stewie sees a broadcast on television that features a man he is convinced is his biological father. Determined to get to San Francisco to find the guy, Stewie and Brian set off with Quagmire on a cross-country adventure. And Stewie finds the mysterious potential father, but he is not who he seems . . .

Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story is better than simply three episodes of the series tied loosely together with a pretty random and weak plot; the story develops as a character study from the near death experience into a road trip into a time travel adventure. And the strength of the work is that it is funny. This is an undeniably funny little film. And it has the irreverence to the establishment that Family Guy is known for, especially in its cutaways. So, for example, as Stewie travels in time, he ends up witnessing Condoleeza Rice as a pot-smoking, woman-kissing, anarchist in a hilarious quick cut.

And the rest of the story is funny and edgy as well, from Stewie shaving for swim practice, getting drunk to losing his virginity after practicing with . . . well, it's best not to ruin some of the surprises. The film is funny, but it's not terribly complex and it is certainly not highbrow. This disc may be essential for fans of Family Guy, but it is not likely to hold up quite as well to a general audience.

That is not to say that the film does not make itself clear to those who are not already fans of Family Guy, because it does that. Somehow, one just assumes that anyone who might enjoy Family Guy already knows about it, the same way The Simpsons has become something of a worldwide phenomenon. Altering that thinking for a moment . . . Family Guy tells the story of a Rhode Island family called the Griffins. They are the "typical" American family, save that they are led by the (literally, at least in later seasons) retarded, obese father Peter Griffin, have a talking dog named Brian and a baby named Stewie who is a megalomaniacal child bent on world domination and the death of (mother) Lois. The show creates humor more often through crude remarks and pop culture references presented in cutaways from the main action as opposed to situations/plots, which are usually pretty straightforward.

Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story focuses on the sadistic baby and continues the tradition the series developed of pairing up Stewie with Brian, which eliminates many of the questions about whether Stewie can actually talk (Brian can), but if no one else can understand what Stewie is actually saying, Brian can. Pairing Brian and Stewie up allows such things like Stewie to go on a road trip and have capers without raising the pesky questions of the reality of the series.

The nice thing about this set is that the way it is presented includes approximately twenty minutes of footage that were not featured in the (eventual) television release, which allows the set to hold its value. As well, the DVD has a commentary track that precedes the movie being broken into three parts for television release, so the writers and producers are able to speak candidly about their goals with the movie and how edgy it is intended to be. This is one of the sets where the commentary track is at least as good as the presentation itself, which rewards the fans who rewatch it over and over again.

Unlike when it was first released, the set has come down from its original $25 - $30 price, but if you're finding it for more than $15.00, you're not looking hard enough. The movie is good, but it's not worth the original high price, which the marketers knew they could get. If nothing else, Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story ought to prove to the executives at studios and production houses that there is value to producing straight-to-DVD works, especially for cult classics like Family Guy, which have a strong market motivating it.

For other animated works by Seth MacFarlane, please check out my reviews of:
Family Guy Volume 3
Family Guy Volume 4
Family Guy Volume 5
Family Guy Presents Blue Harvest
Family Guy Volume 6
Family Guy Volume 7
Family Guy Presents Something, Something, Something Dark Side
Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade Of Cartoon Comedy
Family Guy Volume 8
Family Guy Presents Partial Terms Of Endearment


For other television reviews, please check out my index page for a complete listing by clicking here!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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