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Green Lantern’s ‘Flight’ Illuminates Animation’s Power

Warner Bros. Animation is premiering the direct-to-DVD “Green Lantern: First Flight” at Comic-Con, and with the all-systems-go plan to produce a live-action film based on the galaxy-spanning character, one might assume that there will be additional interest in this animated movie.

Yet as with DC Comics’ other animated features — PG-13-rated and aimed directly at a committed, comics-savvy fan base — this brisk, action-packed 77-minute movie takes full advantage of the animation medium’s freedoms, and thus for obvious reasons figures to have relatively little in common with a big-budget theatrical tent pole.

Animation actually remains the best venue for adapting comics to the screen (which explains why Marvel is doing its own series of titles), in part because the flights of fancy feel less hokey, and budgetary constraints aren’t really an issue. Indeed, animated series such as the 1990s “Batman: The Animated Series” and “X-Men” for Fox Children’s Network and Cartoon Network’s more recent “Justice League” remain some of the finest adaptations that have been done — and, rather sneakily, were almost too good for kids.

As such, “First Flight” can plunge directly into the action, dispensing with the Green Lantern origin story in about six minutes before whisking him off to meet the Guardians of the Universe and into pitched battle in outer space with the rogue Sinestro.

Written by Alan Burnett and directed by Lauren Montgomery (with Bruce Timm and Bobbie Page as producers), the movie features the by-now obligatory recognizable voice cast (“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’s” Christopher Meloni as Green Lantern/Hal Jordan, Victor Garber as Sinestro), as well as blood, death and the occasional expletive. Nothing here is out of bounds for a kid 13 or so, but the more adult touches send a clear message to fans that this isn’t the watered-down Saturday-morning fare that many abhor.

A live-action movie, by contrast, is going to have to finesse the origin in much the way that “Iron Man” deftly did. In that setting, the moment the uninitiated audience laughs in the wrong place the movie is temporarily crippled; here, even the more outlandish flourishes — such as when Jordan has to win over the skeptical Green Lantern corps, consisting of a bunch of bizarre-looking aliens — sail by without triggering such concerns.

This is actually a crucial window for bringing comics from the page to the screen, given that most of the top-tier characters — Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, X-Men, the Hulk — have already made the transition, with varying degrees of success. Less well-known characters such as Iron Man and Green Lantern require a more delicate touch — but as this movie demonstrates, can be extremely entertaining when handled properly.

So for fans, I’d suggest savoring this direct-to-DVD production before Ryan Reynolds ever puts on a power ring and starts reciting the Green Lantern oath. Because as another big green hero has demonstrated (twice), comic-book based movies are invariably a crapshoot, whereas “Green Lantern: First Flight” is the character done right.

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