Considering the furore that surrounded BBC3's decision not to broadcast this flagship animated series, after protests from Catholic groups, two main issues arise:
1) Is it offensive? 2) Is it entertaining?
In response to the first, I suppose that depends on whether you regard religion as a suitable target for satire. In the case of Popetown, the satire is marginally less scathing than "Father Ted" (1995). Bob Mortimer plays Father Nicholas, the long-suffering back office clerk whose main duty involves satisfying the whim of the infantile, childish Pope, played by Ruby Wax. To help him out, he can depend on the dotty Irish nun Sister Marie (a sort of Mrs Doyle type housekeeper), and to hinder his best efforts he has the evil machinations of the three money obsessed Cardinals. Minor characters, such as the svelte, vixen-like TV presenter Sister Penelope, and the creepy, animal-mad Father Bosch, provide additional plot twists and side jokes.
It is quite evident from the series that Popetown is not based on the real Vatican, but is a parody of it; characters and places do not match up directly with real life, and, in the one episode where Father Nicholas leaves the familiar walls of 'Popetown', he appears to be in a crime and drug ridden New York, not Rome. Furthermore, the Pope is clearly not John Paul 2.0, or Benedict XVI for that matter - he has the maturity of a 7 year old, likes bouncing on his pogo-stick, and prefers horror movies to sermons. This is not real!
If I had to pick one genuinely offensive characteristic, it is the stereotyping of all the Popetown tourists as Japanese camera-flashing stick characters, speaking a faux 'oriental' language. This I found a little uncomfortable.
So, we come to the second question: Is Popetown actually any good? Well... it's not bad. As an animated comedy, it's nowhere near the comedy calibre of The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, or any of the benchmarks. As a religious satirical comedy, it doesn't hit the level of Father Ted. The jokes are amusing, but not laugh-out-loud. Animation quality is fine, with some scenes being in 3D; but occasionally, roughness shows. Voice-over quality is excellent, as you'd expect from the all-star cast, though Ruby Wax's Pope voice is intentionally irritating. Overall, therefore, Popetown is definitely worth seeing, but be prepared to be mildly disappointed; and, considering this is a DVD-only release in the UK, it might be worth waiting for someone else to shell out their money and borrowing theirs.
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