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Aqua Teen Forever: Plantasm Review: One Big Serving Of Delicious Chaos

EDITORS' RATING: 7/10
Pros
  • Actually has a plot!
  • Surprisingly biting satire
  • The Mooninites steal the show
Cons
  • Still exceedingly crude, in both animation and content

"Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters," the 2007 theatrical spin-off of the surreal Adult Swim cartoon comedy "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," made two major contributions to the culture: first, an advertising campaign that unintentionally made the city of Boston look like fools; and second, a hilarious death metal parody of "Let's All Go to the Lobby"-style movie pre-shows performed by Mastodon. Other than those two things, there's really not much worth remembering about it. The dadaist nonsense which was sometimes hilarious in the TV show's 10-minute episodes quickly wore out its welcome in an utterly ridiculous but rarely funny 85-minute feature film.

And yet here we are in 2022, 15 years since "Movie Film For Theaters" and seven years since the show's 15th and final season, and the anthropomorphic fast food fighting squad of Master Shake (Dana Snyder), Frylock (Carey Means), and Meatwad (series co-creator Dave Willis) now have a second full-length movie — this time a direct-to-video joint. And surprise! This one's actually pretty good! 

Maybe this is a case of absence making the heart grow fonder, but "Aqua Teen Forever: Plantasm" is genuinely impressive in how it works the series' absurdist sensibility into a relatively functional, unexpectedly topical story all while consistently providing laughs of both the smart and stupid varieties over the course of its 75-minute run time.

Getting the band back together

"Aqua Teen Forever: Plantasm" opens with the Aqua Teens on a dangerous mission battling the monster from John Carpenter's "The Thing" on a space station. Sometime later, Master Shake is a homeless "space hero," and Frylock and Meatwad are long dead... to him. Meatwad is living with dogs who want to eat him, while Frylock is now going by the name "Phoenix" (after the city in Arizona, not the mythical bird) and doing tech work for the online shopping company Amazin'.

The central drive of getting these disillusioned former teammates, along with the "honorary Aqua Teen" Carl (also Willis), to reunite gives "Plantasm" narrative structure in a way that the first "Aqua Teen" movie never bothered with. There's a limit to how much development one can actually give characters as gleefully brainless as Meatwad or as unrepentantly selfish as Master Shake (there's a reason why Frylock, the intelligent and somewhat responsible one, ends up being the most important character to the story), but even having rudimentary character arcs to build the silliness around makes for a far more enjoyable experience as a feature film.

If the story is slightly more traditional than is the norm for the "Aqua Teen" franchise, the way in which the story is told is anything but. There's a unique framing device that screws around with the conventions of home video and digital downloads in almost as hilarious a way as the first movie's opening song skewed the conventions of movie theaters. To say what this framing device actually is would be a spoiler, but I can say it involves everyone's favorite pixelated aliens the Mooninites, Ignignokt (Willis yet again), and Err (other co-creator Matt Maiellaro).

Also, this is technically a better "Space Jam" movie than either of the two actual "Space Jam" movies. That's just one of many things I can say about it that will only sort of make sense when you actually see the movie.

Supporting unions and mocking tech billionaires

Perhaps the biggest surprise about "Aqua Teen Forever: Plantasm" is just how sharply political it is. "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" was never really a topical show like "The Boondocks" or "South Park," but the central story of "Plantasm" deals heavily with an issue that's particularly relevant at this time to workers in the animation industry: unionization. Frylock's new workplace Amazin' is obviously a take-off on Amazon, and the company's man-bun-wearing, spaceship-building, stature-insecure, vegan-yet-big-game-hunting CEO Neil (Peter Serafinowicz) is a composite of every tech billionaire people love to hate. His factories are manned by alien species that hate each other but are drugged into a stupor — and he will assure you these workers only pee in bottles because they want to.

Frylock initially befriends Neil and even tries to work within the system using the language of "corporate values" to argue against the abuse of the workers, but this proves unsuccessful. It's unionizing the workers which ends up saving the day in an amusingly cathartic fashion. The film's satire covers a lot of different targets — there are ironic gags about toxic masculinity and environmentalism, and there are even some jokes at the expense of unions relating to their historical connections to organized crime (of the sort portrayed in Martin Scorsese's "The Irishman," yet another target of this movie's ridicule). But this isn't some nihilistic excuse to offend everyone equally; everyone takes their jabs, but it's extremely clear whose side the movie is ultimately on when it comes to matters of importance. I can't believe I'm writing this, but the movie's leftist political messaging honestly reminded me of Boots Riley's "Sorry to Bother You."

The main thing stopping "Aqua Teen Forever: Plantasm" from being a great movie is that it's, well, an "Aqua Teen" movie. Being kind of bad has always been this series' thing; it would be weird if it wasn't. The animation in this movie might technically be the best "Aqua Teen" has ever looked, which means it's still not even on the quality level of most of Adult Swim's current TV shows, never mind the higher expectations of feature animation. For all the gags that hit their mark, there are still gonna be the requisite poop and barf jokes with no real target beyond grossness for the sake of it, as well as bits that are more random than actually funny, and 75 minutes of this nonsense is still a little exhausting. But it's a lot less exhausting than one might think it would be based on the previous movie. Fans of "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" will fully embrace the movie for what it is, and even "Aqua Teen" skeptics may find themselves laughing more than they would expect to.

"Aqua Teen Forever: Plantasm" is now available for purchase on digital, 4K Ultra HD, and Blu-ray and will debut on HBO Max and Adult Swim in 2023.