"Marco Polo: Return to Xanadu," is the first animated feature from the new Tooniversal Studio and the last film to qualify for the Academy Award for best animated feature.
An outstanding film from a promising new studio would be welcome, especially in a year when drawn animation has been overshadowed by the commercial and critical success of the computer-generated "Shrek" and "Monsters, Inc."
Unfortunately, "Return to Xanadu" is an undistinguished work that feels made for the direct-to-video market. As the original Marco Polo (voice by John Matthew) prepares to leave China in 1292, Kublai Khan (Michael Kostroff) gives him half of a magic medallion. When it's joined with the half Kublai keeps, it enables the possessor to travel through space and time in pursuit of a second medallion stolen by the evil vizier Foo-Ling (Tony Pope).
Centuries later (how many centuries is never made clear), a teenage descendant of the Polo family also named Marco (Nicholas Gonzalez) inherits the half-medallion and heads East--just as Foo-Ling is plotting to marry Princess Ming-Yu (Elea Bartling), usurp the Throne of Xanadu and send his henchmen to recapture the missing medallion.
Along the way, young Marco is aided, for unexplained reasons, by Reginald the Seagull (Tony Pope), an Indian fakir named Babu (Pope again) and Delicate Dinosaur (John Matthew).
Although the story ends after about an hour, when Marco and the princess reunite the halves of the medallion and defeat Foo-Ling, the film drags on for 20 minutes longer as Marco, Reginald and Delicate pursue the villain into the age of the dinosaurs and outer space. When they set out after him yet again, Babu announces, "The adventure has just begun," which suggests that a sequel is already in the works.
The animation is on the level of a minor cable show; flabby timing robs the slapstick of its intended humor. Ron Merk's direction is choppy and uncertain, with blackouts substituting for transitions between scenes. The vocal performances sound like bad impressions of better-known actors: Foo-Ling is supposed to be Hans Conried; Delicate Dinosaur, Dom DeLuise; etc.
The many, unnecessary songs run to such painful attempts at rhymes as "I enjoy kidnapping lovely ladies/I love stealing candy from babies." And naming Asian characters Lo Fat and Wong Wei in 2001 ranks as dubious taste at best.
The result is the kind of fun-for-the-whole-family film that isn't much fun for anyone.
Unrated. Times guidelines: suitable for ages 6 and older: cartoon slapstick violence.
'Marco Polo: Return to Xanadu'
Young Marco...Nicholas Gonzalez
Delicate Dinosaur...John Matthew
Princess Ming-Yu...Elea Bartling
Marco Polo...John Matthew
Reginald the Seagull...Tony Pope
A Tooniversal Co. production, in association with Interline, Afanti International Animation Corp., s.r.o., Druzba Film Assn., Ltd, released by the Tooniversal Co. Director Ron Merk. Producers Igor Meglic, Chris Holter, Ron Merk. Screenplay Chris Holter, Ron Merk, Sheldon Moldoff. Music by Chris Many. Production design-animation director Arne Wong, Jaroslav Baran. Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes.
Exclusively at the Laemmle Fallbrook 7 through Thursday, 6731 Fallbrook Ave., West Hills, (818) 340-8710.
This 'Marco Polo' Is No Animated Discovery
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