Marvin the Martian in the 3rd Dimension

on October 23, 1996 by Alex Albanese
   Now playing on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue is a fight to the death between two giants. Look, up in the sky--not a bird, not a plane, not even Godzilla vs. Megatron, but two brand-new multi-story flagship studio stores, located but a block apart. There are few better commodities than fond childhood memories; on Fifth, Disney and Warner are clashing and cashing-in on them in deluxe style. The Mouse House has been at this for generations, but the Wabbit is coming up fast, and one of his secret weapons is the premiere animated presentation of "Marvin the Martian in the 3rd Dimension," in an exclusive engagement in the eigth-floor screening room at the Warner Bros. Studio Store.
   Purists might still scoff, but this establishment's elaborate environment, along with many of the items for sale, perfectly captures some of that old Looney Tune spirit. And, really, it's okay; Bugs never pretended to be anything but the ultimate conman-on-the-make anyway. Several tall sculptural murals (including one that serves as a marquee for the short film), clever sight gags, displays, videowalls, and interactive ACME thingamabobs provide suitable atmosphere. The store also boasts a restaurant, an animation art gallery and a glass elevator with shifting views of snooty Van Cleef & Arpels across the Avenue. Patrons can have a fine time without actually buying anything.
   Unfortunately, that idiosyncratic Merrie Melody mix of attitude and mayhem is doing better on the glassware than on the silver screen. To wit, then--the fillum. The store is currently the only North American venue for Marvin's 70mm 3-D experience (sponsored by Toshiba). Admission to the 12-minute show is $2; along with a ticket and a cardboard pair of polarized glasses, moviegoers also receive a pleasantly hefty Marvin the Martian souvenir coin (which one can keep or use for a $2 discount off most store merchandise). The program runs continuously at 20-minute intervals, and while waiting to enter the 74-seat theatre ticketholders stand in a stylish, retro-yet-futuristic lobby and are entertained by the classic Chuck Jones cartoon "Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 Century" on several large monitors. That, however, is the structure's one fatal flaw. The new Marvin the Martian movie, for all its computer-generated and multi-dimensional wonders, can't live up to its predecessor, and it suffers all the more mightily when placed in such close proximity.
   Upon reinspection, "Duck Dodgers" proves to be comprised of a series of blackout vignettes built on jokes that were corny four decades ago. But the result is a knowing lunacy that's endlessly entertaining, because the gags are enacted by an ensemble of broadly drawn yet subtly shaded characters with superb comic timing. In "MM 3-D," as with the recent full-length "Space Jam," it seems the current custodians of Warner's classic characters don't fully understand them. In the 3-D effort, Daffy stutters and spritzes as megalomaniacally as ever but, without Bugs (or "Duck Dodgers'" Porky) along as a knowing foil, the humor is undercut by more than half. Marvin is still intent on universal domination, but the comic fundamentals of that creature from another world (who was so deeply touched by Porky's "birthday" gift of a beribboned bomb in "Duck Dodgers") are nowhere to be found here. Daffy's periodic outburst, "Duck Dodgers in the 24th and one-half century!" was self-aggrandizement as satire; here, when he sputters, "Duck Dodgers in the 3rd dimension!" it's just a shill for something we've already paid for. The (mostly recycled) gags are bigger and shinier than before, but not as deft.
   "Marvin the Martian in the 3rd Dimension" is one long, loud, sometimes luscious, unrelieved chase sequence. It could have been a beaut, a real humdinger, but it's ultimately just another soulless thrill ride a la "Twister." Or, to put it another way, it's a derivative sitdown break from a good shopping experience. In this wisenheimer empire that wasn't built on a cloying mouse, that is dessshpicable. A Warner Bros. release. Animated 3-D short. Unrated. Running time: 12 min
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