X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Three and X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Four DVD Review
By James Harvey
After the X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume One and X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Two DVD titles flew off the shelves earlier this year, it's no surprise Buena Vista Home Entertainment is back already with two new DVD volume releases collecting 29 more episodes of the beloved animated series. Coming out of the ground-breaking "Fox Kids" era of the 1990s, X-Men: The Animated Series was very faithful to the comics from whence these characters came, sticking close to storylines and designs of the times. And as these two new releases show, while the show may have had some rough times, it's easy to tell why X-Men: The Animated Series is considered one of the best comic book-based cartoons ever.
The X-Men are back for more nonstop thrills and excitement in X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Three of the definitive animated series. Faithfully created from the pages of the original Marvel comic books, these classic stories are a must-have for any X-Men fan! When the all-powerful Dark Phoenix inhabits the body of Jean Grey, The X-Men go to battle in order to save one of their own. Get into the action with 15 spine-tingling episodes, including the 4-part "Dark Phoenix" saga, in this collectible 2-disc set! Then, the action reaches all-new heights in the landmark X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Four. With adventures adapted directly from the original Marvel comic books, this collection is a rich piece of the X-Men legacy and a must-have for every X-Men fan. The X-Men must join forces with the heroes of the future when Apocalypse, a mighty mutant, is driven completely mad by his powers! Discover the stunning conclusion to the 4-part epic "Beyond Good And Evil" in this sensational 14-episode set. Two great releases with 29 episodes of mutant madness!
Before I continue, I want to clarify that this review covers both X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Three and X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Four DVD titles. Given the street date and content for these two volumes releases, I believe one review to cover both titles is adequate.
It wasn't until the final episode of the first season that X-Men: The Animated Series really clicked for me and, stretched out over summer of 1993, I caught up on the first season. From there I was hooked and, as the series progressed further and further with each season, I stuck it out through, through the good and down-right terrible ("Have Yourself A Morlock Little X-Mas," anyone?). For all the faults X-Men: The Animated Series has, it's still a great and fun animated series. When the series was released onto VHS, I was there for every single release and, to this day, I still have my X-Men: The Animated Series VHSs buried somewhere with the rest of my old tapes and comics. I even have some of the previous single-disc DVD releases from Universal and Disney, too. As you could imagine, I was excited when the first two two-disc releases were announced. And now, as Buena Vista releases two more two-disc DVD volume releases for X-Men: The Animated Series, I'm glad to say fans should snatch these new releases right up, too.
These two volumes releases, which collect 29 more episodes from the third and fourth season of the series, definitely continue to give X-Men fans a solid bang for their buck. After the first two rock-solid seasons giving us the best the show has to offer, available in X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume One and X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Two, the X-Men now find themselves on a bigger stage, being tossed into space and into the far reaches of the globe to deal with new threats on a regular basis. We still deal with the usual "at home" threats, but more and more, the X-Men find themselves on global jaunts to save a world that fears them. While the animation suffers from part to part, the four-part "The Dark Phoenix Saga" and the awesome "Beyond Good and Evil," one of the multi-part, are two great examples of outer space, time-bending fun. Thankfully the series knew when to have fun and just roll with the mayhem that comes with battling evil mutants or far-out space creatures.
Personally, I've never been a fan of "X-Men in Space" stories, but the third season episodes included make these sometimes difficult-to-swallow tales enjoyable, particularly the conclusion of the Phoenix story with the four-part "The Dark Phoenix" storyline. And, outside of the four-part "Beyond Good and Evil," we actually don't get too many "X-Men in Space" stories, but we do see the X-Men hop the globe once again, as well as the introduction and return of some really memorable characters. The fan-favorite episode "Nightcrawler" is included, which takes a frank and straight-on look at religion, and is an episode that I still can't believe got made. There's some very heavy themes dealt with here, with the script never backing away to play anything down. Everyone's favorite fuzzy elf then returns with "Bloodlines," sadly not included in these two new volumes releases, but will be in the fifth and final release. Still, "Nightcrawler" alone is almost worth picking up these two new volume releases.
The two-part "Sanctuary," a personal favorite of mine, is also included in these two new releases, and is just as great as I remember. Sure, the animation is choppy and rough at times, but it's one of the best Magneto stories you could ask for, and presents a powerful portrait of intolerance. The two-part "Proteus" is another gem that I find to be under-appreciated by fans. But for all the good episodes, we get some weak ones, too. "Have Yourself a Morlock Little X-Mas" is a flat-out terrible episode with no redeeming values whatsoever, and is easily the worst in these two new volume releases, with other installments like "Orphan's End," "Love in Vain" and The Lotus and the Steel" not faring well either.
With every episode, the outstanding voice casting continues to impress. We had the awesome Cedric Smith as Charles Xavier, Norm Spencer as Cyclops, David Hemblen as Magneto, and George Buza as Beast to name a few, but there was one that stood out. Like I said before, Cal J. Dodd will always be Wolverine to me, and countless other fans. After all these years, he is still the voice I hear when I read an X-Men comic. He was, without a doubt, perfectly cast as everyone's favorite Canadian mutant. In fact, I think he was the best cast character in the series. Yes, other characters had memorable voice actors behind their roles, and did great work respectively, but none topped Dodd as Wolverine. I have no doubt Dodd's work in the series is why both the character and the series itself remain so memorable to me. Catherine Disher also deserves special props for her work in these two volumes as Jean Grey, particularly for her work in the "Dark Phoenix" saga.
As before, the only real strike against the series is the usually subpar animation that is bestowed upon so many episodes in both volumes. While the animation here isn't as bad as the earlier seasons, we do seem to be getting some kind of consistency with the series at this point. That being said, character designs and quality fluctuated almost constantly, but that comes as no surprise given how the series was reportedly animated as quickly as possible in order to meet tight deadlines. Still, some off-model episodes, like "Cold Comfort," actually come out looking absolutely amazing. The cheesy accents and groan-worthy one-liners also tend to bog down the series, but aren't as detrimental as the seemingly constant animation problems. But honestly, the rough look of the animation does add to the overall charm of X-Men: The Animated Series. The series can also be very "1990s" at times to, but, well, we can't hold that against it, now can we? And, as the series progressed, the animation does improve, with some episodes looking just great, like "Xavier Remembers" and the first two parts of "The Dark Phoenix" saga.
The episodes featured on X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Three include "Savage Land, Strange Heart, Part 1," "Savage Land, Strange Heart, Part 2," "Obsession," "The Dark Phoenix, Part 1," "The Dark Phoenix, Part 2," "The Dark Phoenix, Part 3," "The Dark Phoenix, Part 4," "Cold Comfort," "Orphanís End," "The Juggernaut Returns," "Nightcrawler," "Weapon X, Lies, and Video Tape," "One Manís Worth, Part 1," "One Manís Worth, Part 2," and "Courage." X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Four features "Proteus, Part 1," "Proteus, Part 2," "Sanctuary, "Part 1," "Sanctuary, Part 2," "Beyond Good And Evil, Part 1," "Beyond Good And Evil, Part 2," "Beyond Good And Evil, Part 3" "Beyond Good And Evil, Part 4," "Have Yourself a Morlock Little X-Mas," "The Lotus and the Steel," "Love in Vain," "Secrets, Not Long Buried," "Xavier Remembers," and "Family Ties."
With all the ups and downs we're given with this series, X-Men: The Animated Series is still a great yarn. The animation may not be the best, and the writing occasionally dips, but this cartoon is just as fun as I remember. The episodes in these two collections may not be as strong as the ones features in the first two volume releases, but fans should still rush out to pick these up. This show features, to many, the definitive X-Men line-up, along with designs coming straight out of the comics and the great collection of villains at their disposal. With X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Three and X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Four, fans are getting 29 more episodes, the majority of them straight-up winners. Sure, not all of them are winners, but there is literally only a handful - if that - of weak episodes, and the rest are all knock-outs. This could be the nostalgia talking, but X-Men: The Animated Series is just as enjoyable as I remember it, with both volume releases coming Highly Recommended. The series may not be perfect, and has a couple distracting setbacks as described above, but even those can't overcome the sheer enjoyment that comes from this classic animated series. Fans will not be disappointed!
Like the first two releases, Buena Vista Home Entertainment has packaged X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Three and X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Four in simple Amaray cases, both of which are equipped with hinge flaps to support both discs for each volume release. Both releases also include foil-enhanced cardboard slipcovers. A standard but reliable package for a two-disc release.
Digging into both DVD releases, it's a familiar story. While we get 29 episodes, both releases are absent of any extras save for a collection of trailers for other products. It's not unexpected and I still hope this will be rectified in the fifth and final X-Men: The Animated Series volume release. Again, I'm sure there are piles of people willing to talk about the production of this series, and hopefully we'll hear from them, but any lack of featurettes and the like is expected at this point. Thankfully, with the massive amount of episodes, the extras aren't really that missed to be honest.
The audio and video transfer for both of these releases are exactly what we got with the first two - good, but not great. While the transfer for both releases are pretty solid , though compression and interlacing are very noticeable at times. Naturally, since these episodes don't appear to have been remastered, the image can appear murky or soft at times, with dust, dirt, and scratches popping up almost regularly. Still, I find them to be above broadcast quality. Other's may disagree, but they definitely look better here on DVD than they have anywhere else. While it would have been nice to see the episodes get remastered, what we see here is completely watchable and not as bad as some may believe. In addition, the audio is standard for this release is good, with everything sounding crystal clear and focused at the center. There's the odd hollow-sounding moment here and there, but I'm pleased with the quality overall.
And, like with the last two releases, the episodes themselves are complete, as far as I can tell. I may be wrong, however, but I am sure there are fans out there who will be able to easily discover whether or not these are 100% complete. The only noticeable difference I can see is that the Saban title card in the end credits is no longer present, likely for legal reasons. The screen just goes black instead of the Saban end credits title card appearing. Still, such a minor change, one that hopefully fans won't overreact to, is not worth missing out on these DVD releases.
Overall, X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Three and X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Four are two releases that fans should definitely not overlook. Fans looking to continue their X-Men: The Animated Series DVD collection should be pleased with these two releases, bringing 29 more episodes onto DVD. And, while they could be better, the audio and video is just fine for this release, especially considering the age of the series. Buena Vista Home Entertainment has done a good job getting this series onto DVD, and while opinions may differ, I know I'm not disappointed with what we get here. The lack of extras was expected this time around, but here's hoping that will change for the fifth and final volume release for the fan-favorite series. Besides, there's literally hours worth of content to watch here. X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Three and X-Men: The Animated Series - Volume Four are two DVD releases that definitely come Recommended.