"Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder" Ends with a Whimper
Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder is the fourth and final Futurama direct-to-video movie, and the last that fans can expect to see of the show for now. It probably comes with an unfair load of expectations; unfortunately, it doesn’t come close to meeting them. It is still a funny, well-made, and well-animated movie that Futurama fans will enjoy, but as a sendoff to Fry, Leela, Bender, Zoidberg, and the rest of the Futurama crew, it seems disappointingly inadequate.
The Wild Green Yonder of the title is out in deep space, and is threatened by Amy’s horribly capitalistic parents, who are busily paving over the surface of Mars to build galactic-scaled hotel/casinos and miniature golf courses with no concern for the environmental impact. This puts them in the crosshairs of a gang of feminist environmental activists, whose are woefully unable to achieve anything beyond sloganeering and organizing protests that end in rather sudden and hilarious ways. After the explosive conclusion to one such protest, Fry suddenly finds that he can read minds. One tin-foil hat later, he is inducted into a secret society aiming to save the universe from the mysterious “Dark Ones.” Meanwhile, Leela takes control of the eco-feminists and becomes a major nuisance for the Wong’s, who compel President Nixon to send the military after them in the form of blowhard Zapp Brannigan.
Really, the plot to Into the Wild Green Yonder is mostly an excuse to get the crew of the Planet Express to engage in their usual brand of idiocy. This DTV doesn’t feel quite as wildly creative as Bender’s Big Score or even Bender’s Game, but the linkages between the narratives still puts it slightly above The Beast with a Billion Backs. Some will also probably criticize Into the Wild Green Yonder as more environmentalist propaganda from Futurama, although this criticism would neatly miss the fact that the environmentalists in the movie are even dumber and less effectual than the forces they are deployed against. It is may sound like damning with faint praise to point out that there isn’t much that really stands out, good or bad, about Into the Wild Green Yonder, but it is the truth. I laughed a lot while it was on, but the movie slipped out of my head almost immediately after the end credits.
Many of the complaints I may have about Into the Wild Green Yonder truly arise from frustrated expectations raised by Bender’s Big Score. With this last DTV, it becomes clear that Bender’s Big Score was the anomaly of the quartet in having a truly coherent storyline that built to something and promised real change rather than the illusion of change. The rest of the DTVs were mostly extended episodes of the show, starting in one place and ending somewhere entirely different with a whole lot of random, funny careening around in between, all designed to ensure we’re right back where we started by the end. Into the Wild Green Yonder is more cohesive than The Beast with a Billion Backs, but it still spends a good portion of its plot in schtick that makes us laugh but doesn’t really add up to anything much. Indeed, the whole on-again/off-again Fry and Leela relationship that has been driving fans nuts for the past four seasons and three DTVs gets something of a resolution in Into the Wild Green Yonder, but it feels completely tacked on, half-hearted, and unconvincing, as though they remembered it right before the movie wrapped and just slapped together what they could in a hurry.
As always, though, you can’t complain about the tremendous production values. This is the first Futurama movie I’ve seen on Blu-ray disc, and the results are eye-poppingly gorgeous. The high resolution is especially impressive in the movie’s many cast-of-thousands scenes, where it’s easy to spend substantial chunks of time in freeze-frame to try and pick out all the cameos on screen. The soundtrack in 5.1 DTS-HD audio is also quite impressive, especially during the movie’s bigger sequences, like an extended space battle between the Planet Express’ spaceship and Zapp Brannigan’s Nimbus. The Blu-ray also comes with one of the most comprehensive sets of subtitle tracks I’ve ever seen. Like all the other direct-to-video movies, this disc comes packed with extras, with the best being the commentary track with executive producers Matt Groening and David X. Cohen, actors John DiMaggio and Maurice LaMarche, co-executive producer Patric M. Verrone, writer Mike Rowe, producer Lee Supercinski, and director Peter Avanzino. As always, it’s almost as entertaining as the movie itself, even if it’s not quite as informative as the other DTV movie commentary tracks. Exclusive to the Blu-ray is an audio/video commentary, which plants a small picture-in-picture window in the lower-right corner of the screen so you can tell who’s saying what at any given time. It’s a real boon to viewers, considering the number of participants in the commentary track, and if you own the Blu-ray, there’s no reason at all to use the audio-only commentary track. The other bonus features are pretty lightweight, with the best being the two short films “Bender’s Movie Theater Etiquette” and “Zapp Brannigan’s Guide to Making Love at a Woman.” Also amusing is the “Docudramarama: How We Make Futurama So Good” featurette, which reveals so many super-secret talents of the versatile and talented actor Lauren Tom (who voices Amy) that you might be forgiven for thinking that the whole thing was just a great big joke (cough). The rest are mildly diverting at best: a full animatic for the first third of the movie, a few small deleted scenes, a voice-acting featurette with guest star Penn Jilette, a quick look as Groening and Cohen experience weightlessness in the “Vomit Comet,” a look at 3-D models used in the movie, and a “how to draw” featurette. Like the movie, most of these special features are entertaining while you’re watching, but mostly forgettable.
It’s pretty clear by the end of Into the Wild Green Yonder that the Futurama crew is hoping for the green light to do more. However, it seems that these hopes kept the crew from giving the series much more than a half-hearted sendoff, and ironically that half-hearted sendoff has left me feeling less inclined to want more. It’s better to go out on a high note rather than wearing out your welcome, and if Into the Wild Green Yonder is any indication, that welcome is getting a little bit threadbare.