Thor is more popular than ever, thanks to a his smash-hit blockbuster movie (read our review HERE), and Marvel is capitalizing on that momentum by launching a multi-media campaign for the character, including Marvel Animation's feature-length film, Thor: Tales of Asgard, which serves as a quasi-prequel to the movie.
But is Tales of Asgard a worthy continuation of the mythos established in the Thor movie, or a cartoon that only kids will enjoy? Short answer: it's a little bit of both.
This animated adventure takes us back to the teenage years of Thor and his brother Loki, back when the two sons of Odin were still being groomed to one day compete for the throne of Asgard. Loki spends his days trying to better his mind and his mastery of magic, while Thor spars with the best warriors of Asgard, developing his skills in battle. Conflict ensues on the day that young warrior maiden Sif whips Thor's butt in a impromptu sparring match, revealing to the arrogant prince that his battle skills aren't as great as he thought, and that his position as prince keeps him in a bubble where he is coddled rather than properly instructed in the art of battle.
Thor decides that he doesn't want to live a coddled life anymore, and that he wants to truly prove himself in battle. To that end, he sets off with Loki to recover the legendary Lost Sword of Surtur, whose flame burns hot enough to destroy even the frigid frost giants of Jotunheim. Assisted by Odin's advisor, the Dark Elf Algrim, Thor and Loki follow the legendary Warriors Three (Volstagg, Fandral and Hogun) on one of their famous adventures - only to quickly discover that the boastful trio have in fact earned their fame on empty boasts, rather than actual adventuring.
Regardless, the small band of Asgardian adventurers manage to avoid several perils and locate the legendary lost sword - but in doing so, they inadvertently re-ignite old grudges, which threaten to destroy all of the nine realms.
Tales of Asgard is a nice little "bridge piece" in that it contains Easter eggs and plot threads that will appeal to both longtime fans of the Thor comics, as well as new fans who discovered Thor via the live-action movie. However, in the same way that the feature is successful in its ability to appeal to two camps of Thor fans, it is also a bit contradictory in the story it tells. On the one hand, this tale further explains a lot of things included in the Thor movie: How Thor and Loki developed different skill sets, powers, and destinies; how The Warriors Three became actual heroes instead of just comedic relief; how Sif earned her title as a master warrior of Asgard; how Thor and Sif carry unrequited feelings for one another; and even how Odin lost one of his eyes.
On the other hand, Tales of Asgard's inclusion of the Frost Giants and their tenuous truce with Asgard (which Thor of course shatters) bears far too close a resemblance to the plot of Thor the movie to qualify this as a full-fledged prequel. There's just no way that the events of the animated feature can be integrated fully into the events of the live-action movie without creating all sorts of logical inconsistencies.
However, even if Tales of Asgard isn't a direct prequel it still does a fine job of expanding the world of Thor for all those new fans who have come flocking since the movie's release. TOA features more of the comics' fantastic worlds, weapons, and races than the live-action movie did, and better establishes what the life of an Asgardian is like, their powers, etc. When certain people criticize the live-action film for being unbalanced (Asgard scenes = awesome, Earth scenes = not so awesome), Tales of Asgard is what I'd imagine they had in mind for a "great and unique comic book movie."
In one of the special features included on the DVD, one of the filmmakers claims (and I'm paraphrasing) that the animation style of Tales of Asgard is 'smoother and more rounded than other recent animated superhero projects.' This may be true, yes, but serious animation fans are likely to still uphold the opinion that Marvel Animation is not as good as the work being put out by DC Universe. We'll let that debate rage in the comments.
Director Sam Liu (Hulk vs Thor, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies) keeps this adventure tightly streamlined and (for the most part) exciting, while the voice actors do good jobs bringing their characters to life (The Asgardians still have that quasi-British intonation from the live-action movie). The only real voice of note is that of Clancy Brown, who voices a Frost Giant; lesser-known actors (a lot of them with extensive voice acting experience) handle the other characters.
All in all, Tales of Asgard is an enjoyable Thor adventure - even with the titular character reduced to teen age. It's not necessarily one of those animated features you'll want to watch over and over again, but if you're a collector of every Marvel animated movie released, or are looking for an entertaining superhero adventure to rent, definitely check it out.
Below are the special features included with the DVD/Blu-ray (courtesy of Bluray.com):
Bonus Features (Blu-ray)
- Two Audio Commentaries, one with supervising producer Craig Kyle and screenwriter Greg Johnson, and the other with producer Gary Hartle, director Sam Liu and character designer Phil Bourassa, offer a fair amount of background on this project. Of the two, the Craig Kyle/Greg Johnson commentary is the best, as the two have worked together for a long time.
- Worthy: The Making of Thor: Tales of Asgard (HD; 22:04) a featurette offering interview snippets with the creative crew, including supervising producer Craig Kyle, executive producer Eric S. Rollman and screenwriter Greg Johnson.
- The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes Bonus Episode (HD; 22:04). "Thor the Mighty" introduces the character of Thor to the Earth Mightiest Heroes universe.
- Trailer Gallery
- DVD Copy of the Film and all Extras
You can watch the trailer for Thor: Tales of Asgard below. The film will be available in stores Tuesday, May 17, 2011.