Saturday, May 20, 2006

Hoodwinked! / **½ (PG)

Featuring the voices of:
Red: Anne Hathaway
Granny: Glenn Close
The Wolf: Patrick Warburton
The Woodsman: Jim Belushi
Nicky Flippers: David Ogden Stiers
Boingo: Andy Dick

The Weinstien Co. and Kanbar Animation present a film directed by Cory and Todd Edwards. Written by Cory Edwards, Todd Edwards and Tony Leech. Running time: 80 min. Rated PG (for mild action and thematic elements).

“Hoodwinked!” is a brilliant idea, a brilliant use of the CGI animated format; and at another time, maybe more than ten years ago, may have fooled people into thinking it was pure genius. Unfortunately for it, the spectrum of what CGI animation can bring to movie going audiences has been fairly well explored by this point and the bar has been raised many times over, meaning that the fairytale genre in this format really demands a finer finished product than this “an ‘A’ for effort” homemade project provides.

The brilliant idea encased in yet another CGI animated “children’s” film is the telling of a very well-known children’s tale a la “Rashomon”, from different characters’ points of view. This is a retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” by the four major characters involved in that story: Red, Granny, The Wolf, and The Woodsman.

The film begins in the midst of the story as we know it, with Red (Anne Hathaway , “The Princess Diaries”) coming to see her grandmother, the Wolf (Patrick Warburton, “Kronk’s New Grove”) has disguised himself as Granny (Glenn Close, “101 Dalmatians”), and upon Red’s discovery of the Wolf’s deception the Woodsman (Jim Belushi, “The Wild”) enters wielding an axe. The police are called in to sort things out. Detective Nicky Flippers (David Ogden Stiers, “Lilo & Stitch”), a frog gifted in dance, questions each of the “suspects” on what lead up these awkward events.

Each character tells a story in which they are trying to do the right thing and somehow become the victim of some mysterious grand scheme, including the Wolf who claims to be an undercover reporter. What the Wolf is trying to uncover, and what the other characters haplessly stumble into, is a plot to steal all the secret recipes from all over the Woods; apparently baked goods are the forest creatures’ primary form of commerce. Each character’s story is different and reveals details about the grand story and informs details about each story told by the other characters.

For the most part it is quite an ingenious idea. The identity of the recipe thief, which I will not reveal here, is a little too obvious to carry the mystery element over the police procedural. The characters, however, are wonderful, and all their tales are very cleverly intertwined with one another. Granny’s tale pushes the envelope a little too far in terms of good plot developments. The filmmakers seem to have run out of ideas by the time they got to her story. There are also some wonderful supporting characters, including a squirrel that is wound a little too tight and steals the show, a singing hillbilly goat, and a rabbit named Boingo, who is Andy Dick (TV’s “Less Than Perfect”) as a rabbit.

Where the film loses its power is in its finishing. While it is witty and clever, the film lacks a sort of refinement. The character rendering seem plastic and expressionless. Red carries the same disinterested look throughout the movie. While CGI animators often choose a stylistic rendering to the characters and environment that is not realistic, this world seems rendered stylistically out of lack of imagination and resources. And while the ideas behind the dialogue are clever and there are a good many chuckles throughout, the script itself seems to play more like a first draft than a finished product. Many of the jokes are good ideas that don’t seem to have been worked out as far as they should have been. Many of those chuckles could have been out right guffaws with the proper punch and delivery.

I believe the reason for this apparent disparity between the great ideas and the mediocre execution comes from the fact that this film never went through any sort of professional development stage. On the DVD the creators, Cory and Todd Edwards, claim to have made the picture for a mere $5000. The Weinstien brothers bought the film to boost their properties as they set out to launch their own studio after their departure from Disney’s Miramax division. While the Weinstiens used their considerable clout to gather a great cast of voice performers to rerecord all the dialogue and probably helped with technical finishing such as editing and color timing, they may have been better off having the Edwards brother remake the entire film with technology beyond what they could buy with their parents’ credit card.

In truth, the limitation of the animation is something that could very easily be overlooked by audiences, since the ideas behind them are so fresh and interesting. And despite the fact that the dialogue is a little flat, it is passable in today’s climate of flash over brains when it comes to acceptable execution of story. But acceptable is something a good movie should strive to rise above, and given the chance of development this idea has the potential to be great. I would like to see the Edwards brothers try it again now that they’ve got their feet in the door.

New rule in animation: It seems it is becoming a new rule in the animated film industry that the voice over artist Patrick Warburton, known in the flesh as Putty from “Seinfeld”, must be employed in every animation project. The use of his voice as one of the primary characters within an animated project automatically raises the final product to a higher level. The rising popularity of his voice is a welcome development.

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