Doctor Strange is the fourth straight-to-video (or direct to DVD) animated film produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Lionsgate. The film is based on the characters and comic book series created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, the original creators behind Spider-Man.
A selfish and vain physician, Dr. Stephen Strange (Bryce Johnson), loses the use of his hands in an automobile accident. Although he is no longer able to perform surgery, he can still be a doctor, but he has always seen himself foremost as a surgeon. Putting his career on hold, he obsesses over finding a cure for his hands, and as his career dies, Strange falls apart.
Directed by a stranger named Wong (Paul Nahauchi), Strange makes a life altering journey to Tibet where he hopes to be healed by the Ancient One (Michael Yama). However, this Ancient One is Earth’s “sorcerer supreme,” and he has plans to heal more than just Strange’s hands. With the help of Wong, Stephen studies magic and learns to let go of the past. As Strange’s knowledge of and ability to wield mystical powers grows, the Ancient One hopes Strange will replace him as the sorcerer supreme, much to the chagrin of Mordo (Kevin Michael Richardson), a follower of the Ancient One who covets his master’s position and power. Soon, Stephen must embark on a mission to protect humanity from a dark, other-dimensional god called Dormammu (Jonathan Adams), but he and the Ancient One will discover a traitor in their midst.
Doctor Strange is by far the best of the Marvel/Lionsgate films to date. It is the first of that lot that is equal to the animated television series and straight-to-video animated films based on DC Comics characters that Warner Bros. has produced, beginning with “Batman: The Animated Series” in 1992. The story is strong – capturing the rise and fall and redemption of a protagonist. It has an epic feel, a good supporting cast, and convincingly evil adversaries.
The animation is quite good, as the characters, creatures, and objects move very well. The layout, background art, set decoration, and conceptual design are all top notch, and the coloring has a painterly quality. Considering all that, Doctor Strange does indeed seem strange next to the earlier Marvel Studios animated films, which while entertaining, did not match the excellence of Doctor Strange.
DVD NOTES: The audio on the Doctor Strange DVD, which is a single disc package, is Dolby Digital Surround Ex, both English and Spanish 5.1, and subtitles are available in both English and Spanish.
The disc has five sections of “Extras.” The first is entitled “Marvel Video Game Cinematics,” a collection of CGI animated sequences included in two Marvel-based video games: Marvel Ultimate Alliance and X-Men Legends II. The CGI animation isn’t feature-film quality, and it would never be mistaken for Blue Sky, DreamWorks, or Pixar. Still, it’s fun to see the Marvel characters alive and in action via photo-realistic computer animation.
The second “Extras” chapter is “The Origin of Doctor Strange.” Nicely done, it features appearances by Stan Lee, J.M. DeMatteis, Steve Englehart, and some of the creators who worked on this Doctor Strange animated film. Then there is “A First Look at Avengers Reborn,” the next Marvel Studios/Lionsgate straight-to-video animated feature. I have to admit that the talking heads featured in this one talked up their new film enough to make me anticipate Avengers Reborn, which is scheduled for released next summer. “Doctor Strange Concept Art” features storyboards, sketches, and assorted concept art and will be an extra sweet treat for those who like that kind of behind-the-scenes look at making an animated film.
Although the fifth “Extras” chapter is just a trailer gallery, the first four chapters are the kind of great add-ons that convince people to buy DVDs. If any Marvel Studios/Lionsgate is a must-have, this is one.