Family Guy presents Stewie Griffin - The Untold Story Review
Cancellation - why let something like that cramp your style? When Fox struck down Family Guy in its prime in 2002 fans wept, and then promptly went out and spent a fortune on buying up hundreds of thousands of the DVD releases of the first three seasons. This was something of a surprise to Fox, the viewing figures for Family Guy were above average but didn't set the world on fire, so when the DVDs shot up the best seller lists it appears that the powers that be realised they had made a mistake and a fourth season was commissioned.
Not content with just putting together a new season, Seth MacFarlane decided to incorporate a three-part story and release it individually as a straight-to-DVD movie. Family Guy presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story is the result.
When Stewie Griffin (Seth MacFarlane) is enrolled in swimming lessons, he meets his nemesis in the form of Brad, the best swimmer in the group. He quickly hatches a plan to off Brad but instead this backfires giving Stewie himself a near death experience - one which will resonate through his life. This is brought home with a thud when Stewie sees a man, in his thirties, who could be his 'real' father and sets off across America with Brian (MacFarlane again) to find out if, all along, Peter (guess who...) isn't his biological dad. The answer is not quite what he expected and eventually involves time travel, paradoxes and Meg (Mila Kunis) getting a sex change.
This, being Family Guy, isn't the whole story - and while the main plot is entertaining enough, the real laughs and fun are to be had on the side-lines. The superb homages to some huge and not-so-huge films could make a great drinking game while the flash backs and background humour are all first rate. The only real qualm I have is with so much ploughed into the film, the running time feels longer than it is - Family Guy works best in 20-minute episodes and this feels all the more apparent here as the film is clearly spliced together from three episodes. Indeed, the three episodes will be broadcast as part of Season 4 and are reported to contain extra footage not found here.
One great thing about the movie is the decision to make it completely uncensored - there are some great moments here where characters are aloud to let rip and come out with expletives. The most eye-opening is in the first five minutes when we're introduced to Peter and Lois (Alex Borstein) on the red carpet - Lois a little worse for wear after taking advantage of the free drinks in the limo not only liberally uses the F word, but also tries to get Peter to 'ride' her on the carpet and is eventually sick all over herself. While some of these might make it into the weekly show, the chances are most of them would end up on the cutting room floor.
With only South Park really pushing the taste envelope on television at the moment, it's good to see another animated series try and provoke a reaction in similar ways. Seth MacFarlane and the writers of each segment have pushed things as far as they can - and not all of the risqué jokes are vocal. Keep an eye out for Quagmire's camper van - I very much doubt that'll make it to our TV screens as part of the series!
Family Guy is great fun and Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story is great Family Guy - well worth fans checking out, although you may find it more rewarding to watch in three sittings as the joke doesn't get a chance to wear thin.
Presented in non-anamorphic 4:3, the picture is reasonable but not perfect. Thankfully we don't have any of the DVNR issues associated with some animation and there doesn't appear to have been anything introduced in the conversion to PAL, but there are a couple of things that do need to be covered.
Firstly there is some evidence of blocking - although the bit rate suggests this isn't as a result of compression. Also, edge enhancement has been applied and is entirely unnecessary given the age and nature of the material here. However the most noticeable defect is an odd split-second drop in quality around the 45-minute mark - even more strangely, this exact frame is missing from the same segment of the animatic extra. The grab below shows the problem in all of its glory.
None of the above should put you off purchasing, and even though it's most noticeable the picture glitch does last for less than a second.
The 5.1 channel track offers little over the usual broadcast Dolby Surround - there is nothing fancy at work here and while the soundtrack is nice and clear it does nothing to require the split surrounds.
Commentary with cast and crew
Seth MacFarlane leads the commentary which also features various members of the cast and crew popping up now and again. Executive Producers David Goodman and Chris Sheridan and Director, Pete Michels are present with MacFarlane throughout. We also get appearances by Alex Borstein (Lois Griffin / writer), Seth Green (Chris Griffin) and Mila Kunis (Meg Griffin) while Seth MacFarlane also occasionally slips into character (most memorably, Stewie).
As commentaries go this is a good one - it's funny, entertaining and also touches on the effect of the series cancellation and resurrection. However, it’s the focus on the movie itself that offers the most and gives the commentary the lift it needs.
Presents the opening 'Red Carpet Ceremony' and the 'Road Trip/Dating Education' sequences of the film using multiple angles to show the original animatics, the final filmed sequence and both side-by-side. An interesting addition, but with no introduction or commentary their value is limited - and given this sort of thing appears on nearly every other animated DVD release they offer nothing new.
There are also trailers for the DVD releases of American Dad and a number of other Fox TV series. All of the extras are subtitled, including the commentary.
Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story is a laugh riot - but the running time isn't suited the brand of humour that the series is built upon. There's no doubt that the original three episode structure will most likely be more satisfactory. However there's still plenty to enjoy and film fans will have a hoot identifying the countless homages dropped in at the most bizarre moments.
The DVD release is good - the picture and sounds are leagues ahead of the DVD releases of seasons one to three although the extras are fairly lightweight with just the commentary raising the bar.