With the world of theatrical animation growing larger than I think anyone even imagined (There's literally at least one animated film being released every month from now to August.), the filmmakers have to try a lot harder in order to stand out. No longer can you rely solely on visuals or the automatic audience that see these films in order to have a hit. Hoodwinked, an independent cartoon made outside of the studio system, does absolutely nothing to stand out. The film takes obvious inspiration from the highly overrated Shrek films, trying to put a modern satirical spin on the Little Red Riding Hood story and filling the movie with pop music. Unfortunately, director Cory Edwards obviously didn't see this as a chance to improve on imperfection, as the film is limp, lame, and barely managed to force out a mild chuckle from me. Even with a breezy 80 minute running time, Hoodwinked seems labored and desperate, and will appeal only to the youngest of animation fans.
Set in a fairy tale forest where humans and talking animals exist with one another peacefully, it seems that a massive crime wave has been plaguing the land. A mysterious thief whom authorities refer to as the "Goody Bandit" has been stealing sweets left and right, forcing various small bakeries and food stands to go out of business. Our heroine, Red Riding Hood (voice by Anne Hathaway) is a delivery girl for her Granny (Glenn Close) - a kindly old lady who runs the largest sweets and pastry business in the forest. Red is honestly concerned when she finds her Granny's business has been targeted and ransacked by the Bandit, and goes to her house to check on her. Instead of her gentle grandmother, she finds a suspicious Wolf (Patrick Warburton) in a cheap disguise waiting for her. The scene turns even more chaotic when Red's beloved Granny comes out of hiding in the closet bound and gagged, and a seemingly-insane ax-wielding Woodsman (Jim Belushi) comes diving through the window, swinging his tool madly and screaming incoherently.
Flash forward hours later, and Granny's house has been turned into a crime scene being supervised by the tough Police Chief Grizzly (Xzibit). He thinks it's an open and shut case, and that not only is the Wolf the guilty party, but he is also the dreaded Goody Bandit. Frog detective Nicky Flippers (David Ogden Stiers), however, thinks there's more to the story than what's been told. Questioning all four of the main people playing a role in the story, we learn what led each of them to Granny's house. Red was there to check on her grandmother out of concern; the Wolf is an investigative reporter who is tracking down the Goody Bandit, and thought Red and Granny might have connections to the thief; the Woodsman is actually a German Schnitzel vendor with dreams of becoming an actor, and was dressed as a lumberjack because he was auditioning for a commercial for foot cream; and Granny is revealed to be an Extreme Sports enthusiast whose reasons for being bound and gagged in the closet are too complex to summarize. As each character tells their own tale, the puzzle pieces fall into place, and the true identity of the Goody Bandit who is trying to wipe out Granny's business will be revealed.
Hoodwinked is a film to be admired in some ways. I liked how the story was told out of sequence, letting the flashbacks of each individual character fill us in on the plot. Sure, this style of storytelling is nothing new, but in an animated film targeted at young children, it's certainly an interesting angle. Also, you have to admire the effort it must have taken director Cory Edwards and his team to get this thing put together without any outside studio financial support. I'm sure it was a labor of love for everyone involved, and seeing it getting a wide theatrical release is probably a very rewarding end to what must have been a grueling process. The admiration ends here, however, as what is actually displayed on the screen has no business being there when stacked against the competition. Even when you consider that this film was made independently, Hoodwinked is so astonishingly amateurish in just about every way that the big screen only magnifies the numerous flaws.
The chief offense is the overall look of the film. Hoodwinked is easily one of the most uninspired looking animated films I've seen in years, and looks no better than some of the stuff you see on Saturday mornings. Sure, the film is brightly colored, but the character designs are so depressingly run of the mill you have to wonder how much thought went into making them. The human characters have this bizarre lifeless quality that make them look less like people and more like freakish human-sized plastic dolls come to life. Maybe it's the fact that their skin has this almost unhuman shining glow. Or maybe its the fact that their hair doesn't move and looks like it was plastered on top of their head. This may sound like I'm nitpicking, but with how detailed computer animation has become, there's simply no excuse for hair that does not move whatsoever when a character is gliding through the air. All of the characters seem to suffer from some flaw - either stiff and lifeless animation or just plain uninspired or uninteresting design. The film's defenders say the fact that it was a personally financed production means we should cut the filmmakers a break and let them cut some corners. I say that if you're going to release your movie theatrically, you need to try a bit harder. The makers of Hoodwinked obviously did not, making it the most visually unappealing animated film in recent memory. (I'm not even going to talk about the children who appear during the Woodsman's musical number, who look less like kids and more like living Chucky dolls.)
If the film had a strong script, I could probably forgive the film's numerous visual flaws. Unfortunately, the script seems to have gotten about as much attention as the animation. The jokes in this film try to fly fast and furious, but not a single one of them are funny, nor did any of them cause a nearly full theater packed with children to laugh. They giggled a couple times, but most of the time, the kids were as dead silent as their parents as the film constantly paraded limp gag after gag across the screen. The film's sole highlight is an old mountain goat character who can only sing instead of talk because of a witch's curse. Once he leaves the movie after his single scene, the film goes back to its old tricks and never recovers. I smiled a couple of times, but never truly laughed, nor did I feel involved enough to get into the story or the characters. A great animated film can involve you in ways that even some live action films can't. Hoodwinked kept me at a distance, and brought forth no emotion whatsoever. The film also features several musical numbers and pop music montages that go nowhere and only seem to exist to pad out the slight story to fill the running time. Perhaps more puzzling than the fact that these music sequences seem to often come out of nowhere is how abruptly and without warning they always end.
All Hoodwinked has to go on is its voice acting, which is surprisingly strong considering everything else. Anne Hathaway and Glenn Close in particular are the main stand outs, creating likeable performances that breathe more life into their characters than the script provides. Patrick Warburton pretty much gives the same performance he almost always does, while Jim Belushi gives a very bizarre turn as the German Woodsman. Other celebrities include Chaz Palminteri as one of the Wolf's informants, and Andy Dick as a cute bunny rabbit. The entire supporting cast are completely forgettable, however, and are restricted to standing in the background and spouting off tired one liners when the need arises.
Hoodwinked is the kind of film where I couldn't help but think that I would be more entertained if I was watching a movie about the making of the film than watching the actual cartoon itself. I'm sure the production must have been quite the labor of love for one and all and there must be some interesting stories to tell about its trip to the big screen. The final product, however, is just so lame and uninspired that you almost think everyone involved wasted their time. Hoodwinked has all the production values of a straight to DVD movie, and about all the ambitions of one as well. Perhaps this will help get Cory Edwards' foot in the door and lead to bigger projects for him. I hope it also leads to better scripts. As it stands, Hoodwinked is an immediately forgettable piece of animation that will probably seem more at home on TV than at a theater.
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