Slugterra: Ghoul from Beyond is a mildly disappointing effort in the Slugterra franchise for a few different reasons. Despite its billing as “the first Slugterra movie,” a short running time and average production values makes it look like just a two-part episode of the TV show. It’s also saddled with a drawn out and padded storyline, some really questionable characterization choices, and a lack of closure that really feels like an excuse to lengthen the lifetime of the franchise.
Slugterra: Ghoul from Beyond opens after the defeat of Dr. Blakk at the end of the Slugterra TV series, and one of the movie’s better achievements is the way it manages to communicate that event in broad strokes without really giving too much away for newcomers to Slugterra or those of us who are behind on the main series episodes. For the newcomers to the world, the world of Slugterra lies thousands of miles below the Earth’s surface and is populated by humans mixed with a strange array of alien creatures and tiny, powerful slugs that are used as living ammunition in Slugterran weapons. Law and order is kept by young Eli Shane, a teenager from the surface and son of Slugterra’s last sheriff, and three friends: the sharp-tongued videographer Trixie, the hulking rock troll Kord, and the diminutive comic relief character Pronto. The series centered on the Shane Gang’s conflict with the evil Dr. Blakk, who tried seizing control of Slugterra through “ghouled” slugs, which turned them much more powerful and savage.
However, despite Dr. Blakk’s seemingly final defeat at the end of the series, there are still a surprising number of ghouled slugs flying around, raising the suspicions of Eli and his gang of slug slingers. Pursuit of a trouble-making gang with ghouled slugs brings the Shane Gang to the furthest edge of the 99 caverns of Slugterra — literally the end of the world in Eli’s strange subterranean home. The gang soon confronts an even bigger threat than Dr. Blakk: a mysterious slug slinger from beyond the 99 caverns, who resembles a ghouled version of Eli and can ghoul slugs without using Dr. Blakk’s Dark Water methods. Soon, the Shane Gang is in the fight of their young lives, trying to end the other-worldly invasion of Slugterra before it starts.
The best thing about Slugterra: Ghoul from Beyond is probably the twist that drives the plot of the movie (which is not revealed in the plot synopsis above). Without giving it away, I’ll say that it’s a creative change-up from everything we’ve seen before, and the fact that the threat is coming from beyond Slugterra itself makes it plausible (or at least as plausible as anything can be in a world where people shoot sentient slugs out of handguns). Unfortunately, there is not much positive to say about the film after that. Once the twist is revealed about a third of the way through the movie, the entire middle portion is devoted to an extended, over-drawn duel where the ebb and flow of the Shane Gang’s fortunes seem like padding to extend the running time. As a character, Pronto has been hit or miss for me, but he’s positively insufferable for most of this movie. His inflated self-image has always been a fundamental character trait, but it’s inflated in this movie to levels that make him completely insufferable. It does set up a pretty cool moment at the end of the movie, but I’m not sure the payoff was worth the cost. Finally, the resolution of the fight is a very deliberate non-resolution, which makes the entire movie feel a little wasted. The only purpose served in the end is to leave plenty of room for a sequel. I don’t begrudge Slugterra the need to propagate itself, but I wish they had found a less obvious way to do it.
Since Nerd Corps went to a lot of trouble to bill this as the first Slugterra movie, it is a bit disappointing that the production values for Slugterra: Ghoul from Beyond seem identical to those of the TV show, down to the same opening credits sequence. It’s not that the animation is bad here, but I think the marketing led to somewhat inflated expectations. At around 40 minutes, Slugterra: Ghoul from Beyond is just a two-part episode; another contributing factor to my disappointment in this latest Slugterra saga. Finally, my familiar refrain that the Slugterra DVDs are too short is clearly not having much impact, since this latest disc is less than half of the 5-episode DVDs we’ve gotten in the past with only a brief short film as a bonus. I’m also hoping the quick release of the movie doesn’t mean we won’t see the rest of the Slugterra series on DVD.
Slugterra: Ghoul from Beyond is just another episode of the TV show, and not even a terribly good one at that. It may not be as bad as an episode like “Snowdance,” but it’s nowhere near as good as the best episodes on the latest DVD. Even so, I admit I’m curious about where the show will take its newest antagonist, and even what will come with the seeming late addition of a new cast member. It just seems like the movie that introduces both should have been better than it is.