The first direct-to-DVD Futurama movie, Bender's Big Score, sagged under the weight of audience expectations and the pressure to shoehorn every beloved minor character into a coherent 90-minute narrative. So perhaps it's best to think of the disappointing Big Score simply as a warm-up, a way to shake off the rust that inevitably accrues when a beloved cartoon franchise lies dormant for four years. Good news, everyone! With The Beast With A Billion Backs, the sleeping, nerdy giant that is Futurama truly awakes to kick ass.
Beast's twisty plot finds the perpetually lovesick Fry infatuated with a foxy new girlfriend (voiced by Brittany Murphy) who unfortunately can't be limited to just one man. Or two. Or three. At first, Fry doesn't mind being part of a male harem, but he quickly grows disillusioned. Meanwhile, an interdimensional rift unleashes an enormous, powerful, space octopus-like creature (voiced by David Cross) intent on sinking its tentacles into everyone on Earth, and making them enjoy it. Surprisingly, they do. The world subsequently becomes a giant, omni-sexual, omni-racial tentacled intergalactic orgy out of a manga-fan free-love hippie's weirdest, wildest wet dream.
In an entirely predictable development, affable everyman Fry becomes Tentacle Pope Of The World. That might seem like a stretch, but it smartly plays into Fry's wistful longing for acceptance and validation. What could be more validating than becoming the Earthly emissary of a benevolent creature that wants to gather our universe together for an eternal ecstatic global embrace? Beast mines pathos and hilarity out of Fry's predicament while taking a brilliant, wildly ambitious comic-book plot in subversive directions. A slew of fan favorites make appearances, but unlike with Big Score, they're implemented organically into a film that combines social satire, science fiction, philosophy, killer one-liners, amazing animation/character design, unexpected emotional depth, and great character moments in the best Futurama tradition. Beast should satisfy cultists while gently ushering outsiders into the fold like, well, a big hug from a friendly, godlike, sex-crazed tentacle monster from outer space.
Key features: A mildly amusing half-hour 3D-ish Futurama adventure from the Futurama video game (with commentary!), and the usual jokey, giggly, engaging audio commentary from key creative personnel.