With the assistance of INTEL, the previously educational thrust of the IMAX experience takes on new dimensions (literally) in "CyberWorld," the first-ever 3-D animated film and the launching pad for IMAX's Family Animation Series.
The wide-screen breakthrough is an omnibus of six segments that have been brought to three-dimensional life via IMAX's stereoscopic technologies, with an outlying "cyber gallery" erected to facilitate continuity. "Dharma and Greg's" Jenna Elfman provides the voice of Phig, a sassy animated tour guide whose laser pen opens the portals to view the animated art on display, thus transporting us into the six discrete segments.
The film begins soundly with an abstract piece of animation entitled "Monkey Brain Sushi." But soon, the cyber gallery becomes (quite literally) bugged, as several code-hungry critters start chowing down on Phig's world, threatening it with collapse. As she scurries to save the galleria, with little assistance from tech-support worker Hank (comically voiced by "Kids in the Hall" and "NewsRadio's" Dave Foley), the portals begin to open automatically and the real reason for "CyberWorld's" existence is revealed.
The animated shorts encompass a wide variety of genres. "Tonight's Performance," a 2-minute piece that beautifully combines futuristic and classical elements, finds a space-age ballerina thrust into a wildly chaotic circus environment. "KrakKen" (originally produced in Hamburg in 1996) starts out flying high, then plunges the viewer into an aquatic playground in which the sea-lion-like title creature tries to outfox some monstrous underwater denizens. The entire jaunt is somewhat reminiscent of previous watery IMAX ventures, but it's all the more vivid for being fully animated.
Fans of the Pet Shop Boys will find plenty of reason to celebrate as the band's lushly animated 1994 music video, "Liberation," comes to glittering life in 3-D. Enhanced by the dynamic sound quality of the IMAX system, the "Liberation" segment proves that this technology could be put to spectacular use in a full-length 3-D exploration of the music-video format.
The most recognizable aspects of "CyberWorld" come from a recent animated film and a TV institution. The bar scene from Antz -- in which Z (Woody Allen) banters with Weaver (Sylvester Stallone) and flirts with Princess Bala (Sharon Stone) -- develops a new dimension visually, demonstrating how much more stunning the original film could have been had it employed the process.
Perhaps the most striking example of the technology's impact is the film's final installment, a segment from a Halloween episode of "The Simpsons." In "Homer 3," the yellow-skinned family patriarch -- who's trying to hide from his obnoxious sisters-in-law -- slips through a mysterious portal in the wall, landing in a digital universe wherein the height and width he's used to are joined by the new quality of depth. (Much to Homer's surprise, he finally has a butt.) It's the only segment that fully demonstrates the difference between the flattened images to which we're accustomed and the dynamism of 3-D. It's also extremely funny.
It's difficult to consider "CyberWorld" a complete motion picture in the typical sense. Its running time is only 48 minutes, and the attempt to connect six animated shorts to a meager storyline often falls flat. But the visual opulence of the entire project makes for some extremely rich eye candy and a startlingly visceral film experience.