“The world is flat! …but ably supported by four elephants floating through space on the back of a giant turtle.”
This world being, of course, Discworld, the setting for many of Terry Pratchett’s comedy-fantasy novels. For those unfamiliar with his works, Pratchett takes fantasy and its many peculiar elements (magic, pseudo-medieval setting, dwarfs, trolls, witches, and monsters) and turns it on its head with invasions from our own world and wry British wit. It’s a world where heroic barbarians are shown as grumpy old men, Death struggles with identity issues, and wizards accidentally go to the moon in a dragon-powered rocket. Through Discworld, Pratchett gives commentary on bureaucracy and the meaning of life (or lack thereof).
This DVD set comes with two animated features: Wyrd Sisters (a full-length film) and Soul Music (a mini-series of seven half-hour episodes). The animation of each is a little kooky. It’s not overly cartoony, but the fantasy elements drive it away from what we’re used to seeing. With touches of computer animation, it strikes me as very ‘90s, but the style goes beyond that. Perhaps it might be best compared to the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon of the mid-‘80s or even the 1977 classic Wizards (but without the oddly nightmarish rotoscoping).
Wyrd Sisters is a tale of three witches caught up in a royal murder while protecting the infant prince from assassins. The rest of the plot plays out as Shakespearean as the beginning, with mistaken identities, plays-within-plays, and declines into madness. The odes to Shakespeare go even further, sneaking lines from Richard III and others into the film as well as featuring a dwarf playwright with the same haircut as the Bard. Other jokes are more overt than sly literary satire, such as the court jester giving a detailed definition of Zen until the cook corrects him, and he leaps into nonsensical jokes. The witches themselves are hilarious with the prudish Granny Weatherwax, the often-drunk Nanny Ogg, and the idealistic young Magrat, who demands “magical ambiance” of candles and circles before casting spells.
In Soul Music, Pratchett’s style comes out to shine. A young musician comes to the city to become famous and ends up with a cursed guitar that invents rock and roll. Therein lies the real draw of Terry Pratchett with his surreal juxtaposition of normality in our world with fantasy, in this case having barbarians and wizards rock out at a concert. Meanwhile in the mini-series, Death (voiced by the very eerie Christopher Lee) watches the death of his adopted daughter but does nothing as it would interfere with his Duty to take lives and keep the balance. The tragedy weighs on him until he takes a leave of absence to try to forget, a difficult task for someone who can remember even things that haven’t happened yet. With no one to collect souls, Death’s teenage granddaughter Susan is brought in to pick up the slack, and she quickly finds herself overwhelmed.
Both films are a blast to watch for fantasy fans and anyone looking for a good chuckle. Be warned, though, that they are British and thus require a little more patience than our up-front American films (not to mention getting past the language barrier).