I’m a big fan of the superhero genre. I had nearly the entire Super Powers Collection of action figures when I was a kid. I watched all the different incarnations of Super Friends in the 80s, then the animated series of Batman and Spider-Man in the 90s. I read comics when I could find them as a kid, and for a few years again as an adult (had to quit that; too low of a quality-to-dollar ratio.) And if I have an opportunity to watch a superhero movie, even if I think it’s probably bad, I’ll usually take a chance on it. So when I had such a chance to watch Mosaic online, I took it.
Mosaic, more fully titled as Stan Lee Presents: Mosaic, is a straight-to-video animated film from POW Entertainment and Anchor Bay Entertainment. Scott Lobdell, who wrote the Uncanny X-Men comics for a period in the 90s, adapted a screenplay from Stan Lee’s story of a new superhero. It’s one of a handful of direct-to-video superhero films “presented” by Stan Lee around 2006-2007, and of the three I’m aware of (the others being The Condor and Lightspeed) it seems to have gotten the best reception on IMDb. It’s still not setting the world on fire there, it’s just falling on the right side of the good/bad line.
Mosaic is the story of Maggie Nelson, a high school student on the verge of college, and an aspiring actress. Though most of the voice cast is made up of veteran voice actors, for the role of Maggie the producers opted for Anna Paquin, likely under the theory that she could be a draw for superhero fans who had seen her performance in the X-Men movies. Paquin’s voice acting is solid, without any stiffness in the reading, and at no point did she fall into the trap of making me hear Anna Paquin instead of her character.
You can tell from early on that this is a Stan Lee story at heart; it would easily fit in with the origin stories of Sixties superheroes such as Spider-Man or the Hulk. It opens with a heist of an artifact at a museum. A security guard interrupts, and the thieves are forced to leave the artifact behind for now; most of the burglars get away, but one is killed by the security guard (himself then killed by the others), and left behind. The investigating police, including Maggie’s father Interpol Agent Nathan Nelson (Gary Chalke), find themselves perplexed upon examining the body because this guy… he ain’t human.
He looks a lot like this, only no longer so ambulatory.
Agent Nelson takes the artifact back to his home for further investigation, locking it in a safe there. We all know, of course, that this is going to lead to endangering him and Maggie, but that’s just what you do in this sort of story. In this case, though, weirdness strikes before the thieves make an attempt on the artifact. While her father is away, Maggie is on the computer doing research for a paper, with her pet chameleon (and science paper subject) on her shoulder. A lightning storm breaks out, and the artifact erupts with magic, and Maggie of course gets zapped. Soon after, she begins manifesting various powers, some of which are chameleon-themed, and some are a bit more of a stretch. When it comes to superpowers, she won the lottery like a lot of Golden Age and Silver Age characters. She can change her form (not just illusion, but actual shape-shifting) into other people and creatures (including their clothing, oddly enough), or just mimic their voices. She can change colors or become invisible. She can leap and cling to walls, she has enhanced strength and regenerates quickly. She can scan the DNA of other creatures by sight, and she can see in infra-red. As far as I know, chameleons can’t do anything even thematically similar to those last two, but then again, spiders aren’t known for psychically sensing danger and look how well that worked out for Peter Parker.
Plus it gives the animators a chance to get really trippy.
Soon after, an intruder disguised as her friend Stephan (Cam Clarke) enters her home and tries to get her cooperation to search her father’s papers. Maggie promptly brains him with a desk lamp, and ends up getting some answers out of him. Of course, it turns out he’s the good guy, but you can’t have a super-powered meet-up without a concussion-inducing misunderstanding. He calls himself Mosaic (Kirby Morrow), and he explains to Maggie what’s going on. He and the robbers are from a race of humanoids who evolved from chameleons instead of apes (again, Sixties comic-book logic, folks). These Homo Chamelials have the abilities to turn invisible or shape-shift the way Maggie does, but lack her more advanced powers. The artifact is one of several sacred stones that are being sought by Manikin (Ron Halder, oddly uncredited), a wrathful ousted leader of the Chamelials, in order to grant himself great power and assert Chamelial dominance over the Earth.
Considering this is coming from a guy who just had his skull bashed in, she believes him pretty quickly.
The adventure takes off from there, and it’s a fairly straightforward uncomplicated yarn that hits on a lot of familiar comic-book tropes. Including, of course, a few that are starting to seem pretty tired by now. But it’s a fun enough story, and if you can accept that it has 1960s comic book sensibilities, it’s not a bad way to kill 75 minutes, especially since it’s available on both Hulu and YouTube for free. And the animation looks pretty good; it’s not theatrical Disney quality, but it’s about the same quality and style as most of the superhero cartoons of the 90s, so it’s a good fit. Overall, the movie isn’t anything special, but as a quick bit of comic-book-y entertainment, it’s kind of fun. Had this been the pilot to a TV series instead of a standalone movie, it would be plausible for it to have been picked up for at least one season and have been enjoyable.