Sunday, February 11, 2007

All the better to hear your many criticisms!

On the recommendation of several coworkers, I watched the computer animated movie Hoodwinked on DVD.

I'm not big on a lot of recent computer animation, and it doesn't have anything to do with the medium. It just seems a little poorly thought-out. Back in the days of cel-animation (I know, I'm ancient), there was one powerhouse. Disney. Up until a certain point in the mid-to-late nineties, seeing the Walt Disney imprint on an animated feature meant that you were in for a specially-crafted motion picture full of quality artwork, well-written songs, and probably a tug or two at the heartstrings. There were other companies that branched into the animated market. Some of their features were high quality (The Land Before Time, for instance), but most were not (Anastasia, Ferngully, Rock-A-Doodle, et cetera). Most were relegated to bargain bins or directly to video.

The computer animation trend is about the same. There is one surefire hitmaker (Disney's own Pixar, although the quality of Cars was dubious). Only now, the smaller animation firms and second-rate imitators are far more prevalent in the market. CGI films seem to come out at the alarming rate of about one-per-month these days. Meet the Robinsons and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will undoubtedly replace Arthur and the Invisibles which just replaced Happy Feet which replaced Flushed Away which you get the idea already you rube. I've seen enough talking animals in the last year that I could populate the most wonderful zoo. And that's not including stuff like Night at the Museum or Star Wars Episode III which are overreliant on CGI at the expense of classic filmmaking technique.

Most of these movies suck. Through and through. A few gems sneak through the cracks--Shrek 2, and to a lesser extent, Shrek come to mind--but it seems to be a whole lot of "second-studio animation syndrome," which is a deadly disease I just made up. I'm pleased to say that Hoodwinked falls more into the Shrek category of winners than the Over the Hedge category of stinkers.

Sure, it's an awful lot like Shrek in other ways, too. It plays on a classic fairy tale (or at least a storybook tale, since there's no fairy business involved). There's the overly cute squirrel that fills the Puss-N-Boots/Gingerbread Man role nicely. However, the format of the film is fresh and original. The four main characters of the Little Red Riding Hood story--[Little] Red [Riding Hood], the Wolf, the Granny, and the heroic Woodsman--all tell their side of the story to an inquisitive frog detective, who tries to piece together the whole situation and solve the mystery of a local recipe thief. The four character vignettes explaining the piece interact with one another so well that you'd swear it was a Seinfeld story. Each seemingly senseless event has a logical and oftentimes funny meaning behind it. The second half of the movie, in which the crew solves the mystery, is predictable and less fun, but it holds the viewer's attention.

The writing isn't the sharpest stuff that I've ever seen, but for a kid's movie it is way above par. Unlike Shrek, Hoodwinked doesn't rely on many references to other films. Sure, there are basic structural similarities to The Usual Suspects, and iMDB points out references to the odd television movie from the 1970's, but it's nothing the casual viewer would catch, and it's never played for laughs (as opposed to the aforementioned ogre's Matrix reference). Instead, most of the humor is character- and dialogue-based.

The voice acting is fairly good. Anne Hathaway is surprisingly lively as Red, and Patrick Warburton is solid if not particularly challenged in his role as the wolf. Andy Dick makes a humorous turn as a bunny named Boingo (any references to Oingo Boingo? No? Damn). Also, anything that features Jim Belushi in a role that doesn't make me want to brutally murder Jim Belushi does a fairly good job.

Is it a recommended buy or a rental? Nah. But if you have a younger sibling or a kidnapped child, you could do far, far worse than Hoodwinked. For its short running time, it keeps you fairly interested, and there is enough invention and humor that you shouldn't be banging your head against the wall.

1 comment:

Brian said...

i thought it was pretty entertaining, too.