CGI toon is PS2 in an Xbox 360 world
Directed by Cory & Todd Edwards
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Glenn Close, Patrick Warburton
When Disney declared the death of traditional hand-drawn animation by shutting down its old-fashioned animation studios and vowing to make Toy Story sequels ad infinitum, other Hollywood studios, more or less, fell in line. Computer animation is the wave of the future, everyone declared. Kids won't watch a cartoon unless it comes off an iMac, they repeated. The Polar Express is a work of genius, they claimed. ( ... Cough, cough.)
Unfortunately, this spurious forward-thinking logic misses the fact that traditional 2-D animation has been perfected over the course of roughly 70 years (1937 being the date of Disney's first feature-length cartoon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves). Fully rendered 3-D CGI, on the other hand, has barely been viable for a decade (1995 being the date of Disney/Pixar's groundbreaking Toy Story). No one but Pixar (the real innovators behind Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and The Incredibles) has been able to produce flawless feature-length animation. (Yes, DreamWorks made Shrek, but they also made Shark Tale and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.) Still, everyone insists, computers are the way to go. As a result of all this high-tech obsession, moviegoers have been flooded with mediocre computer-animated films. (Just look at Disney's bargain basement Valiant for a prime example.)
Now, the Weinstein brothers (fully liberated from under the Disney yoke) have latched onto the trend, parading out the CGI toon Hoodwinked as one of the first offerings from their new distribution company. The film, like nearly every cartoon since Aladdin, is a cheeky, self-referential “all-ages” toon jammed with pop cultural references.
The basic plot is a postmodern retelling of the “Little Red Riding Hood” myth. Seems Red, Grandma, The Wolf and The Woodsman have all been nabbed in Grandma's house, and it's now up to a dapper froggy detective named Nicky Flippers to sort out the elements of this crime. While Flippers quizzes the four main characters, we get four different Rashomon-style versions of the same story.
While Akira Kurosawa's 1950 classic remains one of the most ripped-off films in cinematic history (the last Rashomon rewrite I can recall was 2003's Basic), Hoodwinked does manage to get some mileage out of the well-worn plot. The various versions of the story avoid becoming too repetitive and do dovetail nicely into the film's central mystery concerning a baked goods bandit running amok in the forest.
The film does have its moments, but most of the funny business is minor. (A motormouthed squirrel gets some solid laughs, while a singing goat deserves his own movie.) The major jokes are standard-issue, and most of them were already covered in the fairy-tales-get-a-modern-makeover films Shrek and Shrek 2). Red knows kung fu (just like Fiona in Shrek). Granny is all extreme and says stuff like, “Fo shizzle!” (which was slightly funny in Coke commercials about 10 years ago).
The animation itself is visibly substandard, with characters as stiff and blobby as your average Playstation 2 videogame. Filmmakers Todd and Cory Edwards deserve some serious credit for creating a feature-length computer-animated film on a shoestring budget--but maybe a computer-animated film isn't the best place to have a shoestring budget. The voice cast (including Anne Hathaway, Glenn Close, Patrick Warburton and James Belushi) gives it a solid go, but most of them are serving as substitutes for the original low-budget cast (including Tom Kenny, Tony Leech, Joel McCrary and Sally Struthers).
By the time we hit “happily ever after,” Hoodwinked covers up most of its budgetary shortfalls and seems fitfully clever. Kids probably won't gripe too much--there's enough slapstick to keep them going. But there isn't a lot here to entertain adults stuck with babysitting duty.