- - Sunday, August 7, 2011

New Releases

Paul

Universal Home Entertainment

★★★

Simon Pegg (“Star Trek,” “Hot Fuzz”) and Nick Frost play two British sci-fi nerds who come to America for a convention and get much more than they bargained for on a road trip to Area 51 and Roswell, N.M.

While driving through the desert, they stumble upon Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), an alien who just escaped from a secret government base. He turns out to be something of a space hippie who smokes marijuana, loves classic rock ‘n’ roll (including the Grateful Dead) and has a live-and-let-live attitude toward other beings.

Once Graeme (Mr. Pegg) and Clive (Mr. Frost) overcome their initial shock, they agree to help Paul meet up with a ship from his native planet so he can return home. Hot on his trail are government officials who want to continue using Paul’s advanced scientific knowledge. Along the way, the trio picks up a fundamentalist Christian woman (Kristen Wiig) who doesn’t believe in aliens.

Director Greg Mottola (“Superbad”) has delivered, with the help of Mr. Pegg and Mr. Frost’s screenplay, a broad and sharply funny satire on the world of science-fiction books and films, as well as alien visitation to Earth. Mr. Rogen (“Funny People”) delivers a winning performance as Paul, using just his voice to create a fresh, three-dimensional character with attitude. His conversations and scenes with Clive and Graeme are the motors that drive the film and its often sarcastic sense of humor.

Fans of popular science-fiction sagas (“Star Wars,” “Star Trek” and others) will find plenty of humorous jests and knowing touches to enjoy along the course of the story. Mr. Mottola’s skillful use of computer graphics in visualizing Paul and his antics is boosted by the work of a fine supporting cast, with particularly good turns by Jason Bateman, Blythe Danner and Sigourney Weaver.

The film is available in both a two-disc DVD set and a Blu-ray digital combo pack. Extras on the Blu-ray edition include a digital copy of the film and an unrated version. Other highlights are commentary tracks by Mr. Mottola, Mr. Pegg and Mr. Frost; a short feature on the creation of Paul’s look; and a feature concentrating on Mr. Pegg’s comic facial gymnastics.

One note for viewers offended by religious satire: Though Miss Wiig delivers a sweet-natured performance, her character is often the target of ridicule based on her religious beliefs.

“Paul” is a broad comedy in the truest sense of the term, and while it may offend some, it delivers the laughs many viewers are seeking. Rating: R for profanity, mild violence, drug content, sexual references and some crude humor.

Mars Needs Moms

Disney Home Video

★1/2

Berkeley Breathed, the creator of the beloved comic strip Bloom County, and its sequel, Outland, tried writing a children’s book several years ago, and the folks at Disney turned it into a movie. Unfortunately, “Mars Needs Moms” falls far short of the best work of either Mr. Breathed or the “House of Mouse.”

“Mars” is an animated cautionary fable about a boy named Milo (voiced by Seth Green, “Austin Powers”) who gets a deeper appreciation for his mother (voiced by Joan Cusack, “Toy Story 3”) when she’s kidnapped by Martians.

There are two significant problems with this film: Mr. Breathed’s original story, which has an unnecessarily dark edge to it; and the decision by the filmmakers to use the unsatisfying motion-capture technique to animate the story. (That type of animation gave viewers the emotionless, hollow-eyed characters in “The Polar Express” and other films.) As for the script, it follows, a bit too closely, the more painful elements of the book. The point of the story could have been made without the darker story points.

Mars may need moms, but this uninspiring effort doesn’t need a wider audience. Rating: PG for scenes of science-fiction action and peril.

Family Films

The Fox and the Hound

The Fox and the Hound 2

30th Anniversary Combo Pack

Disney Home Video

★★★1/2

Disney celebrates the 30th anniversary of the first “Fox and the Hound” by teaming that animated charmer with its pleasant, but less satisfying, sequel in a combo pack DVD and Blu-ray release.

The 1981 film is a classic example of hand-drawn animation and its rich heritage as it tells the story of a fox kit adopted by an old woman after its mother is killed. It becomes friends with a hound puppy, but their relationship becomes more difficult as they grow older and the pup becomes a hunting dog and the fox grows into a clever thief.

The movie offers a delightful and touching meditation on the nature of friendship along with an all-star cast of voice talent, including Kurt Russell, Mickey Rooney, Sandy Duncan and Pearl Bailey.

The computer-animated 2006 sequel offers a fanciful story about Tod the fox and Copper the hound and their adventures with a group of singing dogs trying to make it to the Grand Ole Opry.

Despite another well-chosen voice cast, including Reba McEntire, Vicki Lawrence, Jeff Foxworthy and Patrick Swayze, “The Fox and Hound 2” has a simplistic story that likely will entertain the smallest of kids but will leave older children and adults merely amused.

The films are available in a three-disc Blu-ray edition and a two-disc standard DVD version. Extras on both editions include music videos of songs featured on their soundtracks. The Blu-ray version has a feature on the songs for the sequel. The three-disc set also has one disc with both movies on it.

Despite the weakness of the sequel, this is a set of family films worth adding to your collection. Rating: G for both films.

TV Series

Doctor Who Classic: The Sun Makers

BBC/Warner Home Video

Doctor Who Classic: Paradise Towers

Warner Home Video

★★★ for both sets

One of the world’s best-loved and longest-running television series is the BBC’s “Doctor Who.” The ever-evolving stories of the Time Lord, who journeys throughout the universe, have been on BBC since the 1960s and have been a cult favorite in the United States since the early 1970s. Recent episodes can be seen on cable and BBC America.

Warner Home Video is offering a series of older “Doctor Who” episodes on DVD. “The Sun Makers” from 1977 features Tom Baker, one of the most acclaimed of the series’ leads, as the Doctor. The story revolves around a planet where the workers are being exploited and the Doctor’s struggle to help them.

“Paradise Towers,” from 1987, was the second episode to star Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor. This four-part adventure finds the Doctor and his companion, Mel, traveling to a 22nd-century luxury vacation spot that has fallen on hard times - and that’s just the start of things. Mr. McCoy brought an offbeat charm to the role that helped him to put his own imprint on the part.

If you’re new to the tales of the Doctor or a longtime fan, you should find these adventures worth watching.

• Joe Barber is the entertainment editor for WTOP-FM and a critic-panelist for WETA-TV’s “Around Town.”

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