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You don’t have to look very far on this site to see how I feel about Green Lantern: The Animated Series.  It’s smartly written, expertly scored and brilliantly acted, capturing with great precision all the things that made fans fall in love with the Green Lantern mythology.  As a life long fan I’ve seen every iteration of Green Lantern in both animated and live action formats and in my opinion from 1967’s Filmation cartoons to today there simply isn’t a better interpretation of the characters than what you’ll find airing on the Cartoon Network right now.  As we eagerly anticipate the arrival of more new episodes Warner Brothers Home Animation is releasing the first thirteen episodes on a two DVD set subtitled “Rise of the Red Lanterns”.  Surprisingly the decision was made to only release on a standard definition format and hopefully the powers that be will find the smarts to give us the high definition release that this series demands.  Other decisions made by Warner Brothers diminish a product that deserves far more support, but some poor choices doesn’t lessen the need to own this, especially when you consider that you get so much great content for a low price point.
In terms of what’s on the disks, you can find an episode by episode review of all the episodes aired so far along with other news and information about the animated series here, but to summarize it all for a review of the DVD’s let’s assume you haven’t seen it before or heard me sing its praises.  The animated series takes over fifty years of continuity and boils it down to the essence of the basic elements of the mythology and presents a compelling storyline which appeals to all ages.  While the show doesn’t preach there are plenty of examples that model heroism, true love, compassion and all the things that we aspire to be better at. While each episode stands on its own, there’s an over-arcing story that runs through all the episodes on these two disks which provide one complete and epic saga.  The heroes don’t always win, not every decision is a good one, and their are repercussions the cast face as they evolve and grow in a plot which itself illustrates that good and evil is sometimes more of a matter of perspective.

The animated series is the best thing to happen to Green Lantern since, well Showcase #22!

While the show isn’t connected in any way to last year’s live action movie starring Ryan Reynolds the producers smartly skip over how Hal Jordan gets his power ring since that story has been told nearly a half dozen times already and instead jumps right into space right away.  Rather than take the simple road and recycle things we’ve seen before, Green Lantern: The Animated Series plunges headlong into a rip roaring space adventure inspired by the emotional spectrum developed by the current era of the comics as written by Geoff Johns.  Producers Giancarlo Volpe (listen to our conversation with him here) and Jim Krieg have managed to produce a television series that more than meets the expectations of fans who might have been let down by last year’s film.

While there are a lot of themes and elements derived from the current comics, the animated series doesn’t regurgitate those plots and the creators instead have crafted a story that manages to surprise and delight even us fans who’ve been around these characters for a long, long time – and they do it without pandering to a youthful audience.  Besides the main cast there are new characters who arrive throughout this batch of episodes which will make both veteran and newer fans very, very, very happy.  As one would expect from Bruce Timm and company the show speaks respectfully to anyone and everyone who is willing to be entertained by a good, well balanced story.
Many people, and I count myself in this group, were wary of a CG show, a creative experiment that moves Bruce Timm into new territory.  But with a Bruce Timm design aesthetic applied to CGI it represents The Incredibles visually, and that’s a good thing.  While some early sequences on Earth look a little sparse, as the series evolves one sees the benefits of going in this direction with some of the creative camera uses which would be very difficult if not impossible with hand drawn animation.  And in high definition the digitally rendered animation takes on a whole new dimension that likely would have paled if done differently.  While the DVD release fails to take advantage of the better quality image it looks great for a standard definition downgraded effort.  It looks good, but not as good as all the episodes I purchased digitally in high def.
Sonically speaking the DVDs do a great job of keeping Frederik Weidmann’s score sounding fantastic.  The score was recently released on CD and definitely worth a listen all its own.  Like most television series there’s not a lot of use of stereo separation, so don’t expect a surround sound experience from an audio perspective.  
Of course there’s also the audio provided by the voice cast.  Josh Keaton voices Hal Jordan, adding a great deal of personality to a fairly inexperienced Green Lantern who often leaps before he looks but who is always driven by his desire to stand for what’s right even when that mean’s crossing some lines.  As an uber confident alpha male Keaton brings his likable version of Hal to life complete with a bit more humor than what appears on the written page, but it’s never over played. Kevin Michael Richardson has found the right voice for the fan favorite Kilowog.  Keaton and Richardson’s portrayals have cemented their voices as the ones I hear when I read the comics and their chemistry makes the relationship between the two Green Lanterns very believable.

The voice cast is an awesome as one would expect – and then some

Two new original characters, Aya and Razer (voiced by Grey DeLisle and Jason Spisak repectively,  join Hal and Kilowog as the crew of the Interceptor and both characters have spawned legions of fans all their own.  There’s a certain freedom in using your own creations and a freshness that both Aya and Razer bring to the show that allows for a surprising amount of latitude in the storytelling.  Razer’s tale is tragic and his character arc compelling, complemented by Aya’s Pinocchio journey as she evolves beyond her debut as the ship’s artificial intelligence.

Like every other Bruce Timm helmed animated series the rest of the cast is a who’s who of genre favorites.  Tom Kenny adds a comedic touch to the Red Lanterns in his portrayal of the heady Zilius Zox and Jonathan Adams provides all the rage filled antagonism required of Atrocitus, the much maligned leader of the Red Lanterns.  Guest cast includes Clancy Brown, Jennifer Hale, Phil Morris among others, including the addition of horror legend Robert Englund as Myglom from the Spider Guild, who of all things uses dreams against his prisoners.

While this set is a great addition to your DVD collection and a must have as far as I’m concerned, there are some things which disappoint that have nothing to do with the content and shouldn’t prevent anyone from buying it.  The menu system looks like it was created with home DVD authoring software and something I could do better myself – and a blue color palette?  But more than that it’s the lack of supplemental material beyond a handful of trailers and a digital comic that really disappoints.  I was rather hoping for some behind the scenes shorts or at least a few audio commentary tracks to give me something I don’t already have in my high definition digital downloads.  While it doesn’t affect how I feel about the show, between the decision to go standard definition only and the lack of goodies I’m just somehow left with the impression that Warner Brothers undervalues the property.  I can only hope that we see a high def version complete with supplemental material that encompasses the whole first season.

Someone seriously doesn’t get that this is the GREEN Lantern.  And Windows DVD  Maker has more dynamic menus that this.

Those two factors aside, Green Lantern: The Animated Series Season One, Part One is a wonderful way to enjoy what has aired so far and a great way to introduce the characters to kids.  It’s perhaps the most family friendly way to enjoy a superhero tale that is complex and compelling while still providing a positive message to children without talking down to them.  Rise of the Red Lanterns is a well crafted story expertly told that will leave you wanted to see more.  While the content gets my highest possible recommendation the lack of supplemental content and a minimalistic menu design drags the overall rating down to four out of five lanterns.

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