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"Hoodwinked": Won't be Fooled Again

I’m all for giving the little guy a shot in Hollywood. If more projects originated outside the major studios the screen would probably see more creativity, a trait sadly lacking in animated family features of late. However, sometimes the little guy gets in way over his head, as is the case in the very disappointing Hoodwinked.

My, what white skin Xzibit hasAlthough I applaud the independent nature of this fledgling CGI effort from the tiny Blue Yonder Films, its massive marketing campaign inevitably invites comparison to major studio fare like Madagascar, Robots, and The Incredibles. The reality is Hoodwinked is nowhere near their league. One could make generous allowances for its comparatively tiny budget if not for the film’s total failure to generate any good will. The animation is distractingly awful, the performances are primarily bland, the frequent attempts at humor are universally limp and derivative, and the initially intriguing story fizzles out long before the end.

At least the film breaks away from the quest plot and cloying sentimentalism so common in the genre today. If only the promising notion of turning fairy tales on their head wasn’t made so desperately unfunny.

In Hoodwinked‘s take on Rashomon, the tale of Little Red Riding Hood is examined from the perspective of each of the participants: the feisty Red (Anne Hathaway), her senile granny (Glenn Close), the cagey wolf (Patrick Warburton), and the lunkhead woodsman (Jim Belushi). Each is questioned in turn by the gruff bear police chief Grizzly (Xzibit) and dapper frog detective Nicky Flippers (David Ogden Stiers), who suspect a possible connection with a series of recipe thefts that has been driving local confectioners out of business.

In Red’s version the goody delivery girl hurriedly makes her way to Granny’s house to safeguard her recipe book, sidestepping the wolf on the way. The wolf turns out to be an investigative reporter who shadows Red to try to get a scoop on the robberies. The woodsman is an aspiring actor on his way to an audition, and Granny is an extreme sports nut who gets caught in an avalanche.

The reviews come inWhat sounds like a colorful crew is actually quite dull. Only Stiers makes an impression as a charming and effortlessly well-spoken Sherlock Holmes type. Stiers is quietly becoming one of the best voice actors in animation today, always bringing something new to the table in films such as Atlantis, Lilo & Stitch, and Porco Rosso. Warburton tries to be his usual personable self, but is hampered by tedious dialogue. In fact the film has him talk to a chirpy squirrel in a misguided effort to remind us of his fantastic role as Kronk in the infinitely superior Emperor’s New Groove.

Everyone else is utterly forgettable and could easily have been replaced with no-name talent. Xzibit’s range is limited to a monotone growl, and Belushi makes a woefully halfhearted attempt at a Schwarzenegger accent.

I will admit that I cracked a smile twice, but no more. When someone asks how Flippers got his name there’s a bizarre cut to him tearing up the dance floor at a disco. Later when Wolf is adjusting his mike in the deserted forest he is amazed to pick up a spirited conversation about woman problems, which he looks down to see coming from two caterpillars. If only the film had more of that sort of wacky spontaneity.

Belushi on a coffee breakHoodwinked expends very little effort concocting a message for kids, other than briefly expressing Red’s desire to experience the world beyond her little forest. It does take a moment to reinforce the tired stereotypes of Europeans as haughty villains or endearing nutcases.

Reportedly the film only cost $15 million, and it doesn’t even look that expensive. This is easily the weakest CGI I’ve ever seen in a major theatrical release. It looks like a Super Mario cut scene, or an early stage of Pixar animatics. The only remotely engaging visual is Granny’s Matrix-like slow motion snowball fight. The songs are OK if not terribly memorable, apart from Andy Dick’s jaunty big band number “Top of the Woods.”

Best among the extras is the lively commentary with writer-directors Cory Edwards, Todd Edwards, and Tony Leech, filled with story and animation details. “How to Make an Animated Film” gives a thorough explanation of the production process that should be very educational for kids, if familiar for film fans. Cory Edwards, himself something of an actor, performed most of the character movements for animators to use as a reference. The deleted scenes are just slight extensions of a few musical numbers, presented with commentary from Edwards. Finally, there’s a music video with new animation for the song “Critters Have Feelings.”

Hoodwinked is best left to young and very undemanding children, for it has little chance of entertaining anyone else. The filmmakers probably should have chosen a more modest first project such as a short film or a direct-to-video feature. Pixar wasn’t built in a day, after all. Once upon a time all they had was a desk lamp and a rubber ball. Talk about a fairy tale ending.

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