Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Surprising Winner For The Family Guy Franchise: It's A Trap Delivers!

The Good: Genuinely funny, Decent self-referential bits, Some gags work exceptionally well, DVD bonus features.
The Bad: Still not as tight as Blue Harvest, minor things (no deluxe version . . .)
The Basics: Family Guy Presents It’s A Trap returns the parodies to a high note, mostly through self-depreciation.

Say what you will about geeks, but we are easy to shop for! Last year around this time, Family Guy Presents Something, Something Something Dark Side was released weeks before Christmas and made for a perfect gift for me to give to my geek wife and I. This year, Family Guy Presents It’s A Trap was released four days before Christmas and it is entirely possible with the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, your favorite geek missed picking it up or requesting it on their holiday gift list. Or, you (if you are a geek, lover of Family Guy or your favorite geek to spoil with DVDs) might have seen the prior installment of Family Guy Star Wars parodies and thought, “This is just going in a bad direction.” To be fair, with the parody of the magnificent The Empire Strikes Back, the Family Guy franchise did seem to be headed for disaster. Indeed, on that DVD set, I noted that at the table read for the project that was, at that time, called We Have A Bad Feeling About This that none of the staff was laughing and that the gags did not seem so funny.

So, today, I am pleased to report that Family Guy Presents It’s A Trap bucks that trend. The parody of Return Of The Jedi (reviewed here!) is solidly funny and appears to have been retooled in addition to being renamed. Ironically, the one gag I did enjoy from the teased table read did not make it into the finished project. That said, Family Guy Presents It’s A Trap succeeds in making fans of Family Guy and the Star Wars Saga laugh and that is what it is supposed to do.

When the power goes out in the Griffin household once again, Peter reluctantly begins telling the family the story of Return Of The Jedi. Darth Vader arrives on the incomplete second Death Star shortly before C-3P0 and R2-D2 are given away by Luke Skywalker to Jabba the Hutt. When Princess Leia rescues Han Solo from his carbonite prison, she is captured and things look dire. But then, Luke Skywalker appears, ignores C-3P0’s warning and fights the Rancor (hilariously filled in by Rush Limbaugh) and rescues his friends.

Leaving Tatooine, the Rebels regroup while Luke visits Yoda and confirms that Leia is his sister and Darth Vader is their mutual father. Rejoining the Rebel fleet, Luke arrives on Endor – home of the furry Ewoks – and pedals his way to Darth Vader. Through goading about the many projects of Seth Green, the Emperor tries to turn Luke Skywalker to the Dark Side of the Force.

Family Guy Presents It’s A Trap works for the same reason that Something, Something, Something Dark Side did not. The prior parody had so much it was stretching for because the source material was hardly flawed. As a result, that work became a study in jokes that referenced Family Guy issues more than they dug into The Empire Strikes Back. It’s A Trap has a distinct advantage, then, in that Return Of The Jedi has plenty of faults to pick on and the crew from Family Guy exploit those weaknesses wonderfully.

For those unfamiliar with the basic concept of the Family Guy parodies, Peter Griffin tells the story of a Star Wars film with his characteristic sense of narrative divergence and ineptitude. So, Luke Skywalker is played by Chris, Lois plays Princess Leia and Peter himself takes the role of Han Solo. Brian is neglected for Chewbacca’s early role in Return Of The Jedi, but roles like Darth Vader and C-3P0 are wonderfully recast with Stewie and Quagmire, respectively. Throughout the pared down story of Return Of The Jedi, It’s A Trap presents cutaway gags and allusions to works outside of the science fiction film, while poking ample fun at the source material.

So, for example, the Rancor creature in Jabba’s palace is played by Rush Limbaugh, who appears frothing at the mouth prepared to gobble up Luke. The Ewoks are replaced with the bear from The Cleveland Show, which is clever because the character is a religious fundamentalist and the Ewoks fall into line from a faith-based interpretation of C-3P0s appearance. Also from The Cleveland Show is Rollo, replacing Nien Nunb, Lando’s copilot of the Millennium Falcon. The writers of It’s A Trap make fun of the fact that there are almost no female characters in the original Trilogy outside Princess Leia by acknowledging Mon Mothma’s token appearance. Lois’s reaction to her is an amusing bit of commentary.

Viewers get almost exactly what they expect from Family Guy Presents It’s A Trap, except a deluxe edition with all sorts of swag. The prior Star Wars parodies were released in expanded editions that came with merchandise – like a t-shirt for Blue Harvest and a lunchbox for Something, Something, Something Dark Side. It’s A Trap comes with no such bonuses. However, the programming bonuses are rich, even if they are weird. There is a commentary track which is a lot of fun, adding something for fans who want to hear about the behind-the-scenes issues with making the parody. There are also advertisements for the prior Star Wars parody shows and the animatic rendering of It’s A Trap! Oddly, there is also the Star Wars Trivial Pursuit game played by four members of the Family Guy staff to determine which of them is the Alpha Geek of the office. I’m not sure which is weirder, the bonus feature itself or the fact that my wife and I actually sat through the whole thing, playing along, to see how it came out. Go figure.

Either way, Family Guy Presents It’s A Trap works and that is more than can be said about the last one of these. Fans will be pleased and anyone who has seen Return Of The Jedi ought to be able to get almost all of the jokes, making it very accessible to all.

For other animated works by Seth MacFarlane, please check out my reviews of:
Family Guy Volume 1
Family Guy Volume 2
Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story
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 and film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

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