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Archive for Friday, January 13, 2006

Hoodwinked’ not Pixar, but not criminal either

January 13, 2006

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In the high-stakes big budget world of computer animation, "Hoodwinked" is an anomaly, as it was made without the benefit of major studio cash. Audiences have become accustomed to the dazzling visuals of Pixar movies, however, so the makers of this independently financed movie face an uphill battle, especially since its characters are all uncomfortably glassy-eyed and move like two-jointed 80s action figures.

The "Shrek"-like premise of spoofing classic fairy tales is almost as old as "Hoodwinked's" animation techniques, which are just a step above Madden 2005. Cory and Todd Edwards, the co-writer/directors (along with Tony Leech) know this, so they try to make up for it by packing in more obscure pop culture references than an episode of "The Family Guy."

The Wolf, voiced by Patrick Warburton, is a Fletch homage, a reporter who wears Chevy Chase's Lakers jersey and hoodie (when he's not in one of his crazy disguises) and is accompanied by Harold Faltermeyer-like synth pop to accentuate his deadpan delivery.* And there's a Granny (Glenn Close) who mysteriously appears in the clouds like Obi-Wan Kenobi to tell her granddaughter to "Use the hood, Red, use the hood!"

The film opens with narration that refers to Little Red Riding Hood, but could also be a plea for leniency from the filmmakers: "You can't judge a book by its cover."

Unfortunately, that is a lot to overlook. The action scenes, while frenetically paced, just don't pan out. It is difficult to feel danger in a manic chase when the character is staring straight ahead, mouth agape, with the same blank expression from the scene before. Most of the emotion, then, comes from the actors that are voicing Red (Anne Hathaway), her Granny, the Wolf, and the Woodsman (Jim Belushi). It is like watching a bad music video where the singer is belting out the song, but can't lip-sync it with the same passion.

Movie
Hoodwinked ** 1/2

"Hoodwinked" is a rarity these days - independently produced computer animated film. It was made on a decidedly non-Pixar budget, resulting in glassy-eyed characters that move like two-jointed 80s action figures. What it lacks in visual appeal it it makes up for with more pop references than "The Family Guy."

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To its credit, "Hoodwinked" attempts to mix things up by sporting a "Rashomon"-like timeline where each character gives their own version of a crime. In this case, the fairy tale quartet are rounded up by a long- legged, mustachioed frog named Nicky Flippers (David Ogden Steirs) for questioning about the theft of the woodland communities' "goodie" recipes.

Each suspect has a stranger backstory than the next, some so weird that the jokes may be lost on younger viewers. As the Wolf trudges through a sewer with his annoying chipmunk sidekick Twitchy (Cory Edwards), the scared rodent says, "We're gonna die in here!"

"That's what they said at the Alamo," the Wolf reassures him.

This kind of cheekiness is kind of charming after a while, and there are other clever ideas, like a goat (Benjy Gaither) who uses his oversized horns as a rocking chair and has to sing everything in a high country tenor. The original songs, sung by the characters (with the notable exception of a nice ballad called "Red is Blue" by Ben Folds), are not too bad either.

"Hoodwinked" shows a lot of promise for its filmmaking team. It has an anarchic spirit and lots of in-jokes for adults. With a bigger budget and a better concept, Leech and the Edwards brothers could probably make a way more entertaining film.

** As an extra bonus tribute to Chase, the Wolf also utters the infamous line "Candygram.." when approaching a door.

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