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Laugh It Up, Fuzzball: The Family Guy Trilogy

(2010) ** 1/2 Unrated
159 min. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

/content/films/3663/1.jpgHas it really been over twenty years since Spaceballs? And yet the Star Wars parody business is still booming. Seth Green's stop-motion pop-culture blender Robot Chicken regularly skewers Star Wars, as does Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy, which not so coincidentally co-stars Green. Both shows have devoted special episodes to parodying George Lucas' space opus and, in the process, padded ratings and home-video sales with lucrative "special editions" promoted at Comic-Con and gobbled up by the geeks who have inherited Earth culture. Now Family Guy's trio of Star Wars spoofs makes its way to Blu-ray in a set entitled Laugh It Up, Fuzzball: The Family Guy Trilogy.

Each double-episode devotes itself to an irreverent but affectionate retelling of one film in the original Star Wars trilogy, beginning with Episode IV spoof "Blue Harvest" (named after the spy-dodging production title of Return of the Jedi) and moving on to "Something, Something, Something, Dark Side" (The Empire Strikes Back) and "It's A Trap!" (Return of the Jedi). In the tradition of parodies by the Muppets and The Simpsons, Family Guy accordingly recasts its characters: tubby son Chris as Luke, adenoidal mom Lois as Leia, smugly stupid dad Peter as Han, and dry-witted dog Brian as Chewbacca. Cleveland and Quagmire become R2-D2 and C-3PO, Carl becomes Yoda, and (Mayor) Adam West becomes Grand Moff Tarkin. What sets Family Guy's parodies apart is access to the complete John Williams scores, which every movie fan knows "plus" a project no end (while it helps that 20th Century Fox has its hands in both Star Wars and Family Guy, Lucasfilm also happily approved the Family Guy trilogy).

The comic strategy here is part Mystery Science Theater 3000 (point out the original movie's continuity errors, plot nonsense and silly dialogue) and part vintage Family Guy, which is to say, a surfeit of left-field pop-culture allusions. Many of the jokes take the tack of cutting Lucas' space-operatic grandeur down to size with comic mundanities—mostly Stormtrooper small talk—and transposing our-world culture onto Lucas' other-worldly galaxy far, far away: Vader's maid Consuela and gay Stormtroopers (yeah, there are a lot of Stormtrooper jokes). Some of the gags are undeniably snappy: the Imperial Destroyer sports a Bush-Cheney bumper sticker, for example, a running joke about Green (including the line "Didn't Robot Chicken already do this three months ago?") works every time, and the vocal cameos (Rush Limbaugh, Judd Nelson, Helen Reddy, Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, James Caan, Joe Flaherty, James Woods, Carrie Fisher, Patrick Stewart, Michael Dorn, Mary Hart, Rush Limbaugh, Bruce McGill, and Anne Hathaway are among them) can be clever or, at the very least, pleasingly random.

Even those who've long since tired of Family Guy may find these episodes a tolerable way back into the series, with the series' staff working a bit harder than usual. Though the first two installments aren't in widescreen, the animation consistently impresses, and somehow the lame jokes feel a bit more palatable in an overarching parodic context. A pointless gag that cuts away—during the second part's ice planet Hoth sequence—to a complete recreation of a Juicy Fruit commercial arguably works a tad better than it ordinarily might since the original ad aired around when The Empire Strikes Back was in theaters (Family Guy often seems to be 50% unabated Gen-X nostalgia). When that fails, the writers milk laughs by falling back on awkwardly prolonged timing. Though the writers have professed fatigue—and don't have the same energy on anything from the last twenty years—can it be long before Fox requests a second trilogy of Star Wars parodies?

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1, 1.33:1

Number of discs: 6

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 12/21/2010

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Not surprisingly, the newly minted Blu-ray of Laugh It Up, Fuzzball: The Family Guy Trilogy looks and sounds terrific. The transfers get better as they get more recent: "Blue Harvest" is upconverted from standard def, while the likewise 1.33:1 "Something, Something, Something, Dark Side" was produced in hi-def, and "It's a Trap!" expands to 1.78:1 widescreen hi-def. The picture quality is as good as it gets for this material, which is pretty darn good: blazing color, deep blacks, and sharp definition. All three parts get lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixes, which impress with crystal-clear dialogue, booming music and well-placed, seat-blasting sound effects.

Each installment of the trilogy comes with a Digital Copy, a commentary track, and a nifty handful of extras. "Blue Harvest" gets a commentary by Seth MacFarlane, director Dominic Polcino, exec pro David Goodman, writer Alec Sulkin, writer Danny Smith, producer Kara Vallow, music editor Patrick Clark, recording engineer Patrick Clark, and turning up at the midpoint, Mike Elias and assistant director Joseph Lee; "Something, Something, Something, Dark Side" gets commentary by executive producers Seth MacFarlane, Mark Hentemann and David A. Goodman, writer Kirker Butler, director Dominic Polcino and actor Seth Green; and "It's a Trap!" gets commentary by MacFarlane, Goodman, co-executive producer/writer Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, producer Shannon Smith, and director Peter Shin. All three are entertaining chatfests, with the writers conscious (and self-critical) about any lull in the conversation: MacFarlane and co. explain the story behind the making of each part, comment on the thinking behind gags, and go into detail about the technical requirements of the animation.

The most interesting extra is "A Conversation with George" (12:26, SD), in which MacFarlane sits down with George Lucas, at ILM, for a sometimes awkward chat covering an odd range of subjects.

"Once in a Lifetime: The Making of 'Blue Harvest'" (19:06, SD) gathers comments from Goodman, director Zac Monrief, Clark, Sulkin, executive producer Chris Sheridan, Polcino, Lee, and Vallow, and pokes around the production offices as the show is designed and animated.

The "Animatic Version" (40:49, SD) provides access to some deleted gags, while the "Family Guy Star Wars Clip Show" (9:36, SD) is a montage of all of the previous Star Wars jokes on the series. Last up is a "Family Guy Promo" (5:43, SD) reel.

"Something, Something, Something, Dark Side" gets an amusing trivia track called Family Guy Fact-Ups; "The Dark Side of Poster Art" (9:18, HD), with painter Joe Vaux, character designer Mick Cassidy, and Empire Strikes Back poster artist Roger Kastel discussing poster art and poster parody art; "Animatic Scene-to-Scene with Commentary by Director Dominic Polcino" (6:36, HD), a split screen of the animatic versus the final color reel; "Family Guy - 'Something, Something, Something Dark Side' Table Read - Featuring Acts 1 & 2" (49:27, HD), with lots of alternate jokes, and "Sneak Peek of Family Guy - 'Episode VI: We Have a Bad Feeling About This' Table Read" (2:26, HD).

"It's a Trap!" kicks off with "A Very Special Message from Darth Stewie" (1:26, HD), which appears to be a deleted scene. The surprisingly engaging "Star Wars Trivial Pursuit: The Ultimate Championship" (31:29, HD) records a full game played, for bragging rights, by Goodman, Chevapravatdumrong, Butler, and Sulkin. Also here are "Drawing with Peter Shin" (19:29, HD), "Sock Puppet Outtakes" (1:29, HD), the "Animatic" (39:19, HD), and "Making the Scene" (6:14, HD), displaying side-by-side clips from the animatic and final versions, with commentary by Shin.

Here's a set that will appeal in nearly equal measure to Family Guy and Star Wars fans: certainly for fans of both, it's a no-brainer.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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