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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Our Friend, Martin (1999)

"Time traveling through my life? Is that one of them new television shows, or something?"
- Martin Luther King, Jr. (LeVar Burton)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: January 27, 2004

Stars: Ed Asner, Angela Bassett, Lucas Black, Levar Burton, Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Samuel L. Jackson, James Earl Jones, Ashley Judd, Dexter King, Robert Ri'chard, Susan Sarandon, John Travolta, Jaleel White, Oprah Winfrey
Manufacturer: Panasonic Disc Manufacturing Corporation
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:00m:18s
Release Date: January 13, 2004
UPC: 024543105671
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ B-CC- D-

DVD Review

It's not easy to reduce the legacy of one of the greatest Americans, Martin Luther King, Jr., to the level of Saturday morning television, but that's what this well-intentioned bit of animation does, with only a small amount of success. The thinking behind this project, no doubt, was that kids love the cartoons, so we can slip in a little history that way—it's the If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em school of education. This certainly isn't offensive or wrong; it's just that Dr. King, and young people learning about him, surely deserve better.

Some seriously high wattage star power provide the voices for this story, in which a classroom of Alabama middle schoolers take a field trip to the house in which King grew up. One of the students, Miles, only wants to play baseball, and he worships Hank Aaron. He and his best pal Randy sneak into what was young Martin's bedroom, and are magically transported back through time, to various episodes in King's life—they meet Martin, interact with him, witness some of his greatest and most public moments. Basically, it's Back to the Future crossed with the most politically correct afterschool special imaginable, with a dollop of Forrest Gump thrown in for good measure.

You can't fault the filmmakers for wanting to teach today's children about King and his legacy, and it's impossible to argue with King's principles of nonviolence, and justice for all. But this project reduces King to the level of Mickey Mouse or Spongebob—he's sort of a rock star in this (as one enrapt fan squeals during the march on Washington: "Dr. King's the ultimate!"), and the objects around his childhood bedroom (baseball glove, wristwatch) are treated as if they were the relics of Christ. It's such an earnest exercise that it feels a little empty, like one of those old Davey and Goliath claymation cartoons. The kids are genuinely outraged, as they should be, at the segregationist laws that King helped to bring down, and an animated Bull Connor is the appropriate adversary for the cartoon King; and it's probably obligatory to mention that our hero, Miles, is African American, while his best buddy, Randy, is white. Can't we all get along? Of course we can, especially in the world of animation.

Intercut with the animation is some historical footage, and you realize that an hour's worth of cartoons don't have the emotional impact of a "Whites Only" sign on a door; even more powerful, the actual Dr. King can be briefly seen and more often heard. The most stirring thing in the whole film, unsurprisingly, is the archival recording of King delivering his "I Have a Dream" speech—couldn't we just use that to teach the kids, instead of tarting up King like Captain Underpants?

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Many flecks and discolorations are obvious in the transfer, which looks to have been done pretty hastily; then again, this wasn't high-end animation to begin with.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The mix is mightily askew—bass nearly sucks up the treble, and oh my goodness, the soundtrack on this disc is VERY, VERY LOUD. Sounds like somebody went a little haywire during the transfer process

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Only chapter stops and subtitles.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

A well-intentioned but slightly patronizing animated story of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Your kids can handle the real stuff, I bet.


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