Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LeBeouf
Running Time: 2 hrs. 2 min
Rated: PG-13

Indiana Jones: The Animated Adventures

How do you know when your movie franchise has really taken off? How do you know that it has mass appeal? That it’s really going to stick around? That it has something to offer every member of the family? Happy Meal toys are a great start, but sometimes they just aren’t enough for fans who have fallen deeply, strangely in love with your characters and their universe so that they feel the need to extend it in any way possible. Countless viewings of a sacred trilogy, for instance, will only take you so far. Sometimes authors will write expanded universe books on the subject, but honestly who reads books? This is the 21st century after all. You need action and you need it now – what can you do?

What better way to continue the escapades of a screen icon than to give him his own cartoon show? That’s exactly what the brilliant mind of George Lucas and steady hands of Steven Spielberg collaborated to bring us with The Animated Adventure of Indiana Jones. It’s a mini-series jam-packed with action and intrigue that throws everyone’s favorite archeologist head-first into 2008. Well, actually, it’s the 1950’s, but it’s so sleek and colorful that it looks like it was just made yesterday. As much as I love the old Indiana Jones movies like The Last Crusade, you have to admit that it gets tiring looking at all that film grain and all those sets where the actors were obviously interacting with real objects. Remember Raiders of the Lost Ark was made back in 1981 (read: forever ago) when they didn’t have the technology to create digital explosions and so they actually had to blow things up! Remember the horror of seeing all those real live snakes menacing Harrison Ford and Karen Allen in that cave? Thankfully, the new animated series will give you twice the thrills without the concern for the well-being of countless domesticated reptiles.

The first installment of the series is two full hours and it is called Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Indiana Jones is back and he looks better than ever in his animated incarnation. The show has a very soft, pillowy look fit for a French romance. It’s amazing what they can do with animation these days! Indiana Jones looks just the same, only they have aged him so that he looks at least 60 years old! The voice actor even sounds gruffer than before. He says things like “We were younger then” so that we know he’s older now and this takes place after the old series, in the future – but what is now the past, because it’s the 1950’s. Back then America’s biggest threat was the Communists (they’re like Russian Nazis), played here by Cate Blanchett. Her character may not mesh perfectly with the rest of the animation – her sculpted cheeks just look at little bit less real than everything else – but she makes up for it by being a babe.

kotcs2Baby’s a red.

It also has that kid from Transformers, because he’s totally relevant to young people. Some people would say he was only drawn in because director Steven Spielberg took a liking to him, but if you think about it he’s the obvious choice to play Jones’ son. He’s his son, cool? Only we don’t know that yet. His name is Mutt and at first he’s just some motorcycle punk from the 1950’s who thinks Jones is old and out of touch, but then during their quest we of course find out that Mutt is not entirely useless and he learns to admire and respect his elder. Morals! It’s important to have a moral to the show because the old movies always had those. In Raiders, it was don’t mess with God. In Temple of Doom, it was don’t drink blood. And in The Last Crusade? FAITH. Have faith. Also family. So in the great tradition of Indiana Jones, Crystal Skull is about family, respect, and knowledge. You can take your whole family to see The Crystal Skull, and then go buy a Happy Meal and get the toys.

But, you say, if Indiana Jones is a senior, is he still up to his “old” tricks (no pun intended)? The answer is yes, most definitely! In fact the stunts in Crystal Skull are the most astounding ever! In one scene near the beginning, the Nazi Communists are about to drop an atomic bomb on him, but Indy hides in a lead-lined refrigerator and rides out the blast! In case you were wondering, that’s completely impossible, which is exactly why it’s so awesome! Younger Jones used to do things like sliding under moving trucks which, while extreme, were still remotely plausible and thus not as exciting. This is an important scene because it establishes Jones’ character.

Another improvement is the series’ keen sense of humor. In one scene, Mutt is involved in a high-speed chase through the jungle, and he ends up straddled between two moving vehicles. This is a very tense situation which might worry young viewers, but Spielberg and co. break the tension for us by having him get hit in the crotch – multiple times! Hilarious! Such tasteful use of funny moments allows us to relax and enjoy the experience.

kotcs1Then he became a pillar of salt.

As I said, this is a cartoon series but it is the most realistic one I have ever watched. The effects look extremely lifelike. The gophers move just like real prairie dogs, with fur and shading and everything! Then there’s the giant ants which are fantastic. You know it must be really difficult to animate thousands of exotic fire ants swarming around people, but they pulled it off. Imagine what they would have had to do back in the 80’s. Training thousands of ants to attack on cue would strain time and resources, so once again modern technology provides us with something we never could have seen before.

Speaking of which, the ending is probably the most satisfying of the series. I won’t spoil the plot, but it looks like the Communist lady is going to win because she is getting all the knowledge that she was searching for. The scene turns ugly when the power is too much for her, and it looks like we might see her face melt and explode like in Raiders. Those effects are terribly dated so it’s not really a memorable scene anymore, and I wasn’t sure they were going to be able to deliver on the buildup. But then, suddenly we see something we never expected – the face of a terrible creature peering right through the screen at us! His expression is so menacing and bewildering that I think swallowed my gum. This was done entirely by computer, yet another example of how updating the Indiana Jones series has opened up all kinds of new story possibilities.

All in all, Indiana Jones and The Crystal Skull is the funniest, best-looking, most exciting Jones adventure ever! I can’t wait to see the next volume in the mini-series. Hopefully it will feature Indiana Jones going back in time to fight robot fascists who are also back in time to get dinosaurs for the future so they can mount laser cannons on them and overpower the government of America. I think it will be hard to top the nuke-in-a-fridge stunt, but who knows. Maybe he’ll use his magically enhanced bifocals to stare at an asteroid so hard that it disintegrates from pure fear. That would make a great Happy Meal toy.

A million stars out of 10.

Brother Reed time traveled to the past and sent his 9-year-old self back to 2009 to write this review.