January 12, 2006
Directed by Cory Edwards, Todd Edwards and Tony Leech
The Weinstein Company
1 1/2 stars
There are few better formulas for making serious bank in Hollywood than the animated family film. Thanks to “Shrek” and “Finding Nemo,” the elements of the genre are now well-defined: endearing stories and characters, lifelike digital effects, and humor just edgy enough to please parents and teens without corrupting the kids.
So with the public so hungry for wholesome digital fun, it’s no surprise that formidable Hollywood execs Harvey and Bob Weinstein would try to capitalize on the trend. But their offering, “Hoodwinked,” falls far short of its predecessors, and though it makes a run at all three of the necessary elements, it ends up getting none right.
“Hoodwinked,” one of the first releases from the newly-founded Weinstein Company, is a humorous reinterpretation of the story of Little Red Riding hood, and opens with the fable we all know: Red (Anne Hathaway) visits her Grandmother’s house, finds a suspiciously hirsute creature and a woodsman instead, and pandemonium ensues. From there, the film is largely composed of four “Rashomon”-esque interviews, facilitated by the Forest Police, in which each character retells his or her version of the tale.
Each interview reveals, via some extended flashbacks, a wacky personality twist. For example, Granny (Glenn Close) is an extreme sports freak, as illustrated by a few grainy parodies of the homemade-skate-video genre. But she may be the first stereotypical X-Gamer to use almost exclusively hip-hop terminology, including the old comedy standbys of “fo’shizzle” and “playa hater.”
Poor catchphrase attribution is one of several fumbles made by directors Cory Edwards, Todd Edwards, and Tony Leech in their efforts to create an animated film that caters to all demographics. They also sacrifice the charm of traditional children’s movies for aggressive characters, trite cartoon gags, and curious casting decisions; Xzibit, for example, sheds a little more of his dignity by providing the voice of an irritable grizzly bear/police chief.
But “Hoodwinked” isn’t a laugh-free affair: when the characters aren’t talking, the writers manage to get off a few smart references and clever spoofs. The detective in charge of the Hood case is a frog who dresses and acts like William Powell’s Nick of the classic “Thin Man” films, and The Wolf (Patrick Warburton), actually a misunderstood investigative reporter, is a carbon copy of Chevy Chase in “Fletch,” complete with hoodie, Lakers jersey, and 80’s background techno.
The music sequences are also hysterically overdone, particularly one in which the Woodsman (James Belushi) yodels in praise of the Schnitzel Stand he operates while being chased by a pack of hungry, lederhosen-clad children. Of course, everything is ruined right after the song, when the woodsman breaks out the phrase “Oh, Schnitzel!” two times in about fifteen seconds.
Most of the buzz surrounding this film comes from its unique 3-D digital animation style, which looks sort of like “Shrek” with the effects budget of a tire dealership commercial. “Physics” and “realistic lip movements” have no place in Red’s forest, none of the motion is smooth, and every possible corner is cut: when characters aren’t talking, they often just freeze in place until their next line.
The most ridiculous example of animator negligence, actually, is a perfect metaphor for the film itself. In one scene, Red falls out of a chairlift and hits a few thin, leafy tree branches on her way down. But instead of bending to her body weight like normal branches, these remain immobile as Red connects with and bounces off of each one with a loud thud. In the same fashion, the Weinstein brothers have found a normally yielding genre to be a lot harder than they had expected, with equally painful results.