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Labou by Greg Aronowitz (Director)
Review by Charles Mohapel
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment DVD  ISBN/ITEM#: B001VFM0XS
Date: 31 May 2009 List Price $26.98 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: IMDB.com - Labou / IMDB.com - Greg Aronowitz / Show Official Info /

When I received a press release in April 2009 promoting the upcoming releases, this film immediately caught my eye. Having been in New Orleans over the Labor Day Weekend in 1988, I loved the city and made a number of friends whom I have stayed in touch with for more than 20 years.

The press release read:
Voted "Best Feature" at the 10th Annual Brooklyn Academy of Music Kids Film Festival, Labou is about the camaraderie of three children in search of a ghost pirate and his long lost treasure. Lost in the Louisiana bayou after being chased by the ghost of Captain LeRouge, Emily, Gavin, and Toddster stumble across a little creature named Labou whose home is about to be destroyed by two money hungry oil tycoons. Determined to save the swamps and their new found friend, they devise a plan and enlist the help of the legendary ghost pirate to rid the wetlands of its imposters once and for all.

Contains:

    Trailers & Promos for:
    Igor (On DVD: January 20, 2009)
    Dr. Doolittle: Million Dollar Mutts (On DVD: May 19, 2009)
    Garfield's Pet Force (Expected Release Date on DVD: June, 16, 2009)
    Strawberry Shortcake (Coming To DVD)

Movie:
From three schoolkids who didn't know each other to pirates, ghost pirates, lost pirate treasure, a crooked Texas oilman and his bumbling son, a slightly crooked Louisiana politician and a legendary creature of the Bayou, this film has it all. Truly a family friendly movie, it offers a treasure trove of action, comedic pratfalls worth of the Three Stooges, and a cute mythical creature. Children can observe the personal growth and blossoming experienced by Emily, Gavin, Toddster, and even some of the adults. When Clayton and the kids discover Lerouge's treasure in the bayou, they have a face to face confrontation with the irate ghost and end up convincing him to let them use his treasure to buy the swamp and preserve it from the oilmen. Given how much of Louisiana's wetlands have been lost to a variety of causes such as hurricanes, storm surge, and Man's encroachment, preserving what's left was proven to be crucial as demonstrated by Hurricane Katrina.

Special Features:

Movie with Audio Commentary from Director & Writer Greg Aronowitz, Producer Sheri Bryant, & Actor Chris Violette
As much as I enjoyed watching the movie by itself, I enjoyed watching it with the commentary just as much, or maybe even more.

The most impressive thing I learned from the audio commentary was that Greg was determined to make this film, even with Hurricane Katrina bearing down on them. The enforced 6 month hiatus meant that scenes shot in New Orleans in August with lush green vegetation plus high heat and humidity (100F and 98% humidity) required additional shots back in New Orleans with gray and brown dead vegetation plus near freezing temperatures.

From flats with scenery blowing off the truck crossing the 24 mile long Lake Pontchartrain Causeway to the SUV sinking into the water and being a write-off, the entire cast and crew refused to surrender when the fates frowned upon them. Alligators, mosquitoes, snakes, giant banana spiders, and giant cockroaches described as being "the size of a doubledecker bus" were mere annoyances, not impassable barriers.

Not only did Greg Aronowitz and Sheri Bryant insist on using as many local actors and crew as possible, you discover that they and many others in the production (including some of the actors) worked in multiple roles. Being a small production, they didn't have the luxury of hiring a lot of crew to perform various tasks, but it becomes patently clear as you keep watching that people stepped up and did work to the best of their abilities. It just goes to show you that enthusiasm and hidden talents can sometimes substitute effectively for experience.

As the commentary continues, Greg identifies scene after scene after scene which had to be shot afterward back in LA in Greg's backyard for a variety of reasons.

Building Labou (6:12)
Actress Marissa Cuevas, Director/Writer Greg Aronowitz, Producer Sheri Bryant, and Actor Chris Violette talk about how the different puppets were made, and best of all, this feature has pop-up balloons giving you even more info.

Most of the time Labou was an custom made animatronic puppet, but they also made six different puppets:

    1) main full body cable operated puppet
    2) backpack puppet that Emily wore a lot
    3) cable controlled backpack puppet used for closeups
    4) stunt Labou
    5) whistle Labou
    6) rod-controlled puppet which was used the most

The Casting Process (9:06)
Actress Marissa Cuevas, Director/Writer Greg Aronowitz, Executive Producer TG Solomon, Producer Sheri Bryant, Actor Bryan James Kitto, Actor Darnell Hamilton, Actor Chris Violette, Actor Kelson Henderson, Actor Barnie Duncan, and Actor Earl Scioneaux talk about their own casting experiences or how others who don't speak on camera were cast. Sitting and watching this featurette I found myself grinning or laughing so hard that I kept on having to replay numerous parts.

The two most famous people cast were New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin who appeared as Mayor Adams and Ellis Marsalis (father of jazz musicians Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo, and Jason Marsalis) who appeared as the Jazzman.

The Making of Labou

  • Part One
    Actress Marissa Cuevas, Director/Writer Greg Aronowitz, Producer Sheri Bryant, Executive Producer TG Solomon, Terri Collins (TG's secretary), Cinematographer Simon Riera, Executive Producer Mike Greene, Supervising Art Director David Blass, First Assistant Director Adam Lawson, Second Unit Director Danny Wayne, ADR Mixer Billy Theriot, and Film Editor Chris Conlee all share a wonderful collection of anecdotes with us.

    Executive Producer TG Solomon owns the largest independent chain of movie theaters and was their primary source of funding. With more than 60 years in the industry, he shares a fondness for the kind of family-oriented movies that Greg Aronowitz and Sheri Bryant remembered watching in the 1980s, making his decision to invest in the film an easy one for him.

    I admit to being very surprised that the film was shooting in Pirate's Alley as Katrina was closing in.(21:12)

  • Part Two
    They left in late August 2005 when it was hot, humid, and green (100F, 98% humidity), but when they returned 6 months it was freezing cold, dry, and grey. The pirate flag at the end of Part 2 is priceless(20:01)

The Music of Labou
Not only do you see video of Singer-Song Writer Matt Austin, Slide Guitarist Grecco Buratto and Lead Singer Shoxwaken Hincks of the band World Without Sundays, and Singer Heather Marie Marsden in action, you also hear from Song Writer Guy Harrington of World Without Sundays, Greg Aronowitz, Sheri Bryant, Co-Composer Christie Yih Chong, Laura Duncan (Labou's voice), and Music Co-Composer Nathan Wang. Another quite entertaining segment.(10:41:)

Special Effects
These featurette includes soundbites from Actress Marissa Cuevas, Director/Writer Greg Aronowitz, Producer Sheri Bryant, Executive Producer Mike Greene, First Assistant Director Adam Lawson, Cinematographer Simon Riera, Actor Barnie Duncan, Actor Kelson Henderson, and Digital Matte Painter Roger Kupelian.

When Sheri Bryant asked Greg Aronowitz how many special effects shots were in the movie, he replied 10. Boy was he wrong - the final tally was 215 shots and I'm left wondering how many of those were necessitated by Hurricane Katrina...

This was another segment that ended way too soon.(8:41)

New Orleans: Points of Interest
Here Marissa Cuevas, Darnell Hamilton, and Bryan James Kitto, all residents of New Orleans take us on a guided tour which includes Jackson Square, Pirate's Alley, various shops in the French Quarter, Cafe Du Monde and their World Famous beignets, the paddleboat Natchez (a sternwheeler I rode in 1988), and Zam's Swamp Tour.(6:05)

Trailers

    Angel Wars: Guardian Force (Anime - Coming To DVD) (1:21)
    Legally Blondes (On DVD - April 28, 2009) (1:35)

I was so curious about Greg Aronowitz, that I Googled his name and found the following:
"Greg does special effects and makeup for various TV series and movies. Among them is Babylon 5. He created the look for the Minbari for the pilot, "The Gathering". As a reward to him for his work, he was chosen to play the Minbari Assassin, and will forever be remembered for being first to say "There is a hole in your mind" to Sinclair."

I found that most of the extras were too short for my tastes and that I kept on watching the DVD or having it play in the background as I wrote other reviews this month. It was just so much fun.

If you're not into cute creatures, look elsewhere, but if you're looking for entertainment for kids form 2 to 92, you've got to give Labou a chance to provide you with lots of laughs and a conservation message that's more easy to accept than many.

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