Wednesday, January 21, 2015

StarBoy's Media Review: Opus n' Bill in A Wish for Wings That Work

Written: January 20th-21st, 2015
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.  Christmas may have come and gone, but it doesn't mean I won't talk about some of its specials.  Case in point, this.  =)
Rated: G | Running Time: 23 Minutes | Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 | Directed by: Skip Jones
A lot of people may know about A Charlie Brown Christmas, or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, or even Frosty the Snowman (and, to a lesser extent, its sequels), but chances are you probably haven't heard of Opus n' Bill in A Wish for Wings That Work.
And... I didn't either until I stumbled upon it when it was in the DVD bin in 2013.  This 1991 made-for-TV Christmas special by Universal Cartoon Studios (with a little help by Amblin Television) is based on an '80s comic strip series by Berkeley Breathed; from Bloom County, to Outland, and finally to Opus up until his permanent retirement in 2008.  What makes this special interesting is it's not only based on the characters of the strip but also the children's book Breathed made in the same year, which is crazy.  Breathed wrote and executive produced the special, and I think it shows if you're familiar with the strip or story.  Now before I get to the rest of the review I'll say this right away: I freakin' love this special!  =D  It honestly impressed me when I first saw it and it totally exceeded my expectations in many categories.
The story centers around an earthbound penguin named Opus, voiced by Michael Bell, who desires to have wings and fly in the sky during the snow season.  But, being a penguin, his dreamful ambition gets him ridiculed by the ducks in his neighborhood; and, because he's a penguin, naturally it's not possible for him to do so, which makes him sad.
So he decides to join a bird-themed support group expressing his problems, but things don't go so well.  So ultimately he decides to become an "aeronautic espionage" and try going in the air anyway.  But after Bill the Cat inadvertently botches his take-off Opus gets upset; but as Bill walks away feeling guilty over what he's done, upon seeing the Santa bell on his head Opus decides to write to "Father Christmas" telling him he would like wings for Christmas, which is one more day for him.
So after faxing the letter--really?  Faxing's a thing?--Opus happily cannot wait for tomorrow.  And while he's sleeping Santa Claus and his reindeer are delivering presents around the world, until suddenly the turbulence causes the sleigh to detach from the reindeer thereby making him plummet down to the earth.  Oh no!  Will Christmas be saved in time and will Opus be able to reach the sky?
When I stumbled upon the DVD for A Wish for Wings That Work I wasn't certain what I was walking into until I saw it that October (of '13).  I thought it was going to be at least a decent or serviceable special (nothing great), but I was floored when I found that it gave me more than I imagined.  I mean, color me surprised, there is a lot to like about this special!  =D  The story is really well-written, and despite being only twenty-three minutes long it doesn't feel like any moments are rushed.  I'm surprised a story this good could be told in such a short amount of time.
It's also genuinely funny; at least, I thought it was.  Some of the humor comes from the dialogue that Opus spews out sometimes, and other times it's due to Bill the Cat's crazy antics.  The guy is hysterical and unpredictable; and some of  the side characters aren't so bad either, given their limited screen presence.  The special actually starts out with Opus writing the letter to Santa, and a good chunk of it takes place in flashback, until it comes in full circle, which I liked.  =)  Makes you understand why the earthbound penguin feels the way he does this day.
The art direction is absolutely spectacular; while the characters are designed in a rather simple way, they've still got a charm and likeness all the way.  And some of the angles are neatly chosen, with the camera's point of view shifting to different perspectives sometimes--ranging from personal, to over the shoulder, to side perspectives, to distanced shots, to close-range shots, to even Dutch angle at one point (even though there's no reason to feel intimidated by it).  The backgrounds are lighted and shaded in a way that it lends them depth, not to mention add a tad amount of surrealism to the proceedings.  =)  Just look at those clouds at night before Santa makes his appearance, it almost looks like a recognizable shape.  And the colors for both night and day are succinctly selected.
Oh, but the animation!  The oh-so gloriously well-drawn and fluid is animation, that was one of the things that surprised me the most.  Whether it be Opus trying to flap his wings, the interactions with other characters, the lighting and shading with the fireplace, or even the final scenes, it is mindblowing considering the small budget.  This is the kind of animation that The Christmas Tree (which came out the same year) wishes it had.  =)  Even during the littler moments the animation is smooth, I could just watch it all day.
If there's a problem I have with the special it is rather minor, but here it is anyway: the major close-up on Santa's eye during the sleigh sequence is way too detailed.  So much so that I actually find it pretty scary!  Yet even it manages to exhibit fluidity in terms of animation.
Not to give anything away, but there is a small humorous moment that is so ingenious that the first time I saw it I was like, "Wait, is this the same special?"  What's funny is that despite being a lighthearted Christmas special it's actually got some emotional undertones going for it, particularly during the climax and final payoff; though, that might attribute to the haunting music.  I don't know, maybe I'm overanalyzing it all, but that's how I personally felt when watching this special.  Despite being twenty-three minutes long, A Wish for Wings That Work never felt short for me; and like the flying ducks Opus watches from the ground, it whizzes by fast and you don't even know it.  =O
What can I say about Opus n' Bill in A Wish for Wings That Work?  I thought it was well-written, genuinely funny, visually remarkable, emotionally investing, and beautifully animated to boot.  I was enthralled the moment it began, and I love it.  =)  So much so that I wish these had another TV special made for them; because this is the only one.  I looked that Breathed the writer and executive producer was dismayed with this special; citing things like "working with a director going way over his head", "lack of writing experience" (I don't get that claim, but whatever), ratings that were unspectacular, or humor which he felt did not feel was fit for TV "even if done right", also feeling that Opus should've been voiced by late Winnie the Pooh voice actor Sterling Holloway.

I don't know.  Maybe it's because I saw it in my twenties (I'm still in my twenties), having never seen it as a child, but I personally liked the special a lot.  I had no problem with Michael Bell voicing Opus the earthbound penguin, but man, I can only picture in my head what he would've sounded like had Holloway taken the role instead.  =)  No disrespect, since I liked that actor's voice work a lot.  Berkeley Breathed might not feel fond for the special, and if he personally does not feel highly for something he contributed in, but I respect that.  To each their own.  As for me, if you happen to find it on DVD I recommend you check it out.  You might be in for a surprise.  I know I was.  =)
Images screegrabbed from my Region 1 Opus n' Bill in A Wish for Wings That Work DVD, property of Universal
Personal Score: 4.5/5
I'm StarBoy91, and may your day shine brightly!  =)
<(^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^)>
Thank you for reading my review, my readers, please leave me a comment whether pertaining to the subject or the specifics of the blog itself and let me know what you think.  Hope you have a great day, take care!  =D

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