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Review: “Noah’s Ark” Floats, “Birds of Paradise” Sinks

by on April 25, 2014

The phenomenon of direct-to-video films with a suspicious resemblance to other popular movies in theaters isn’t new, and the results are not known for high quality. Shout! Factory’s Noah’s Ark and Lionsgate’s Birds of Paradise are both foreign imports, released direct-to-DVD at or close to big, similar theatrical releases, but only one of them manages to stand well on its own merits.

Noah's ArkNoah’s Ark is a Spanish adaptation of the familiar Biblical tale, originally released in 2007 as El Arca. I have to admit the sticker on the packaging that advertised, “Based on the best-selling book of all time!” made me nervous at first, but my fears proved unfounded. The movie was surprisingly entertaining, though it’s definitely not recommended for those who expect holy writ. It may seem odd to describe a Bible adaptation as “irreverent,” but it’s hard to find better word, considering the movie’s notable selection of poop jokes or the Almighty asking an assistant whether His voiceover-from-Heaven was OK or if He was over-projecting.

Noah’s Ark is really two movies in one, with the first focusing on the familiar Bible story (40 days and 40 nights of flood, Noah and his family being the only human survivors in a giant ark filled with pairs of all the animals of the world), and the second focusing on how the animals manage to survive together, considering that predators and prey are stuck together in very close quarters. The animal story is anchored by the vain and foolish lion prince Xiro, whose inheritance of the title “King of the Beasts” is in peril from his own shallow, selfish actions as well as the power-hungry machinations of the savage tiger Dagnino. The stories of Noah and the animals rarely intersect, although they tie together in a surprisingly powerful sequence near the end of the movie.

Needless to say, there is significant embellishment to pad the 3 chapters of Genesis to feature length, especially since the animals don’t get speaking parts in any translation of the Bible I’ve ever seen. Most of that embellishment is intended as humorous, though I’d argue if the movie’s generally juvenile tone is completely successful. Even less successful is the characterization throughout the movie; other than Noah, his wife, and the lioness Kairel, nobody is that sympathetic. Noah’s sons and their wives are particularly grating for most of the movie, as is Xiro; the other animals fail to make much of an impression. There is also a running subplot of two greedy moneylenders who stow away on the ark that is ultimately a frivolous distraction. The hand-drawn animation is surprisingly lovely, although the integration of CGI effects shows the movie’s age. Even so, the movie’s heart is clearly in the right place, and if you can tolerate the surprisingly offbeat sense of humor, Noah’s Ark is enjoyable enough.

Noah's ArkShout! Factory’s DVD of Noah’s Ark is fine, with an excellent anamorphic widescreen transfer and 3 different soundtracks: the original Spanish in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, and an English dub in both 5.1 and 2.0 versions. The English subtitles seem to hew fairly close to the English dub script, with occasional small differences in phrasing. The translation seems fairly good, with only the occasional moment where the script seems to be struggling or flailing with fitting meaning to the lip flaps. Of the two soundtracks, I found I preferred the original Spanish; while the English dub is competently done, I found a few of the Spanish voices seemed more appropriate for the characters, and Joe Carey’s performance as Noah in English tended to sound a bit too much like Stan Lee for me to take him seriously. There are no other extras included on the disc.

If anything above sounds offensive to your sensibilities, I think you are almost certain to be offended by the movie. Otherwise, I think Noah’s Ark is worth a watch but not much more.

Birds of Paradise DVD Box ArtBirds of Paradise is an Argentinian CGI film originally titled Plumíferos – Aventuras voladoras, and dates to 2010. Unfortunately, I’m left uncertain whether the movie’s many problems are endemic to the film or if they’re caused by a sub-standard translation. Either way, the movie is a disappointment.

Jack (Drake Bell) is a robin who yearns to be “special,” despite the good-hearted derision of his friends Skeeter the hummingbird (Jon Lovitz) and Vinnie the pigeon (Ken Jeong). Elsewhere, the exotic canary Aurora (Ashley Tisdale) escapes from a possessive tycoon, only to find herself lost in the city. The two meet cute after Jack has an accident that splashes his feathers with paint, making him look like a much more exotic bird even as the paint fumes have a gradual negative effect on his health. The two have to overcome assorted obstacles and problems (sometimes self-inflicted) to find their own senses of self-worth, and each other.

Birds of Paradise is extremely episodic, but each individual episode doesn’t really add to the ones before or after it. Events happen that don’t seem to have much connection to each other, and plot twists never rise above the obvious. This throws off the pacing of the movie, making it feel much longer than it actually is. The script also seems to have many of the same translation problems as those in Pororo’s Racing Adventure, where lip flaps clearly didn’t line up with the amount of plot to be delivered. Consequently, much of the dialogue feels like padding, as though the actors were told to improvise to the screen until their character stopped talking. Sometimes, this works out well; Jane Lynch is fun as a friendly bat named Rosie, and Ken Jeong is entertainingly incoherent as Vinnie. Others don’t do so well, as the perfectly wasted Keith David’s wise old buzzard character comes off as a babbling fool instead, and Jon Lovitz’s speed-talking patter misses as often as it hits. Drake Bell and Ashley Tisdale give their level best, but just can’t escape the flat lines they have to deliver.

Birds of ParadiseThe birds are also not served well by the CGI. Feathers are difficult to animate well in CGI, but Triggerfish did much better work in Zambezia only a few years later. I’m also not sure who thought it was a good idea to have Jack and Aurora try to kiss in the back half of the movie, but their beaks make the attempted lip lock look perfectly ridiculous.

Lionsgate’s DVD (a Walmart exclusive) is good enough. I’m not sure if the slightly murky picture is due to inadequate source material or a sub-standard mastering job, but either way the picture is a little too dark and soft. Unlike Pororo’s Racing Adventure, the English dub is the only available soundtrack, presented in a 5.1 Dolby Digital. Bonus features include a lengthy featurette focusing on the English dub voice actors, a selection of “Minuscule” short films from France (and, like the Pororo DVD, they’re endearingly odd if completely unconnected to this movie), and a trailer. The digital copy is UltraViolet.

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