David and I have been very vocal on the podcast about our love for the short-lived sci-fi comedy “Futurama.” Unlike many other animated programs, “Futurama” did not depend on random gags for its humor. Quite the opposite, in fact. Most the laughs were derived from well-drawn characters doing or saying funny things. Too often, an animated series will sacrifice character integrity and consistency for a cheap, quick laugh. Not “Futurama.” The show was intelligent, satirical, and incredibly layered.
Several episodes featured storylines that were incredibly complex, both conceptually and emotionally. Of course, the network wasn’t sure what to do with it, so they shuffled it around until even the few that wanted to watch it had no idea when it was on. So, sure enough, it was soon canceled.
However, due to syndication and DVD sales, the creators chose to release several straight-to-DVD “Futurama” movies. The first of which, Bender’s Big Score, was, unfortunately, only okay. Everything about it had the feeling of people re-familiarizing themselves with something they once loved. The creators, eager to please their loyal fans, tried to pack in every character from the series, usually at the expense of the story. Overall, it merely hinted at the greatness that the series so often achieved.
Not to worry, though. The second “Futurama” movie, The Beast with a Billion Backs was recently released and it’s a vast improvement. With the first film and all of its blatant pandering out of the way, the writers were free to embrace what made the series so great. Along with being very funny, The Beast with a Billion Backs also explores some very interesting themes, most those of the positive and negative potential of religion, as well as humans’ natural tendency towards dissatisfaction with their current condition, regardless of how great it may be.
The Beast with a Billion Backs, like all good science fiction, animated or otherwise, challenges our beliefs and preconceptions about life and what it means to be human. It is also a visual feast. “Futurama” has always been a beautiful show, but the movies, Bender’s Big Score included, have exceeded the already-high standards set by the series.
There are two more “Futurama” films set to come out in the next couple of years. And, if The Beast with a Billion Backs is any indication, both animation and sci-fi fans have great things to look forward to.