Can anything kill Family Guy? Since its 1999 debut, it's survived numerous time-slot changes, cancellation, critical pans, unwanted hiatuses, and the withering contempt and satirical jabs of The Simpsons, a series that creator Seth MacFarlane openly cites as a primary influence. Somehow, it's only emerged stronger than ever as a DVD phenomenon and a hit on several stations, including Fox, Cartoon Network, and TBS. MacFarlane's cult smash about a wildly dysfunctional Rhode Island clan has shown a resilience and genius for rising from the dead that a slasher-movie franchise would envy. So it's perfectly understandable that its new straight-to-DVD movie Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story opens with what's essentially a victory lap, a gala première for the ensuing feature that trots out such fan favorites as The Evil Monkey That Lives In Chris' Closet, Mayor Adam West, and The Kool-Aid Man.
What follows is something of a Frankenstein's monster of a feature: three episodes linked together by a continuing story, as evil baby genius Stewie searches for a fellow he thinks is his real father. The episodes are the product of different writers, and each boasts a different tone. The first and strongest ekes priceless comic mileage out of Stewie's experimentation with alcohol as a means of deadening his rage, and his attempts to forsake evil and world domination following a near-death experience. The second episode is the crudest and weakest, while the third episode benefits from a fairly ingenious science-fiction conceit that combines elements of Back To The Future, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and the poorly received Bruce Willis vehicle The Kid. Though it's less laugh-out-loud funny and more wryly observational than most of the series, the segment emphasizes what a rich, multi-dimensional character Stewie has become, in no small part because of MacFarlane's bravura voice-work, one of the keys to the show's continuing success. And though The Untold Story is at times raunchier than the series, it's not anywhere near as raunchy or scatological as fans might expect. And its funniest moments attack satirical targets from fresh, unexpected angles, as when a wasted Stewie offers this toast: "To the black man: thanks for taking it all in stride."
The uneven but frequently hilarious Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story falls somewhere between television and film, but its seams don't really show until a postscript of sorts that randomly throws out a series of fairly unrelated hit-or-miss gags that mostly miss. Writers often talk about "flexible reality," but few have taken that concept as far as Family Guy, whose malleable reality bends and contorts to fit whatever outlandish gag its scribes dream up, and whose gleefully irreverent sensibility here is eclectic enough to include both the requisite fart jokes and references to railroaded early 20th-century anarchists Sacco & Vanzetti.