He’s a man of mighty appetite and flatulence! He’s feared and… errr, smelled by all! He’s the Homer Simpson of mythic Norsemen, he’s… Derf the Viking! In this special DVD edition, that wacky gang at Animatus Studio brings us not one, but three madcap Derf adventures. First up is the original Derf short, “The Scent of Valhalla”, in which Derf tracks a heavenly scent to a castle and tries in vain to gain access. After numerous foolhardy attempts to hurl himself through an open tower window with such things as a pole vault, a catapult, and a cannon, our fearless hero eventually notices the drawbridge (!) and strolls in unimpeded. When the asthmatic Derf finally makes it to the top of said tower, he’s greeted by some kind of spread all right, just not the kind he was hoping for! (It’s just too priceless to give away here.)
In the second and much more ambitious Derf adventure, “The Quest for Happy Hour”, a drunken clown recounts to a bartender the secret origin of that titular 60 minutes of shameless boozing. It seems that centuries ago, the wisest of the Viking gods, Odinn, discovered that the only way to stave off the imminent doomsday, called Ragnarok, was to keep one particular human blissfully happy for one straight hour. That human of course, turned out to be none other than Derf. Yes, that easily distracted and impossibly flighty Viking warrior we all know (?) and love. After Odinn, his mighty (but dim) son Thor, and his sexy daughter Freya all fail to keep Derf contented for one hour, the end seems near. But in the eleventh hour, the Big “G” takes pity on mankind and their bungling gods and postpones the apocalypse, provided they continue the new tradition of “happy hour”.
In the third Derf saga, “The Search for the Great White Ale”, Derf is conned by the treacherous Loki into embarking on a danger quest for this mythic brew. You see, Derf is public enemy #1 in Meadville after drinking all of the town’s honey-brewed mead and restoring the town’s supply of ale is his only hope for redemption. In order to find the Great White Ale, Derf must cross the River of Fire, scale the Mountain of Stupidity, and dive to the bottom of the Sea of Gullibility. You get the idea, it’s a fool’s journey, but of course we know the mighty Derf will never fail, especially when it involves beer!
Even if the digital animation is sometimes shoddy and a number of the jokes fall flat, I must admit to a certain amount of affection for the “Derf the Viking Trilogy”. Many of the characters, especially Derf and Odinn, are truly memorable comic creations and their stories are often quite surprising and original. Derf creators Dave Puls and Fredrick Armstrong sometimes go overboard with the visual gags (eyes popping out of sockets, body parts twisting up like pretzels, etc.), only to then make up for it with much appreciated, clever nods to “The Exorcist”, “Jaws”, and “The Lord of the Rings”, among others. In terms of a target audience though, the “Derf Trilogy” is ultimately as clueless, though well meaning, as the big lug himself. These cartoons probably aren’t wholesome enough for kids, but nor are they edgy enough for adults. If the folks at Animatus want to amuse both young and old, the way Pixar has so brilliantly done in the past few years, then they need to push the envelope a wee bit further. In any case, Animatus seems to be on the right track. The quality of storytelling and animation improved dramatically just over these three shorts. Based on the evidence here, I’m looking forward to bigger and better things from the Derf universe in the years to come.