Soul Music
directed by Jean Flynn
(Cosgrove Hall, 1996)

Christopher Lee as the voice of Death was a master stroke. But beyond that element of perfect casting, Soul Music does minimal justice to Terry Pratchett's hilarious Discworld novel about Death, the granddaughter of Death and a musician who introduces rock 'n' roll to a folk-music world.

The book is great fun, but the cartoon -- actually seven 24-minute episodes awkwardly presented on DVD by Acorn Media -- fails to match Pratchett's wit and pacing. I doubt anyone unfamiliar with the Discworld series will be inspired to pick it up after seeing this movie adaptation.

The movie begins with the fiery carriage crash (complete with the requisite flaming wheel) and demise of Death's adopted daughter and her husband. Depressed by their fate, the scythe-wielding incarnation seeks solace in forgetfulness -- a trait he does not seem to possess despite heroic efforts to attain it. With Death abandoning his post, the scythe, cloak and pale horse Binky fall to granddaughter Susan, who, despite a penchant for invisibility, has no idea of her supernatural lineage.

Her efforts to learn the job as she goes brings her into a moral conflict when the fate of a young and revolutionary musician hangs in the balance. Imp y Celyn (roughly translated as Buddy Holly) has brought rock music to Ankh-Morpork with the help of a bluesy trollish drummer, a saxophone-wailing dwarf, a keyboard-pounding orangutan librarian and an enchanted guitar. Hijinks, as they say, ensue.

Pratchett's unique brand of fantastic lunacy carries a great deal of visual potential, but it's not realized on this small-screen version. The animation is mediocre, not up to modern standards by any stretch. Besides Lee, the vocal talents are adequate without being exceptional -- and the Liverpudlian accent sported by Glob the dwarf is a bit over the top. The wizards of the Unseen University suffer particularly in this medium.

The film is fairly true to the novel, but getting the story right isn't enough. This half-hearted effort at animation counts on the content to carry the film -- but for content's sake, stick with the novel. Soul Music, the movie, will appeal to diehard Discworld fans just for the novelty of seeing the book on screen, but Pratchett's work deserves a better translation.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 1 March 2003

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