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Red: What big ears you have!
DVD ReviewHoodwinked has drawn the ire of many critics and animation fans for its less than state of the art visuals. Most favor ridiculous hyperbole (comparing them to CG graphics from 20 years ago, or old Atari games and such). They're making a point—the animation does look rather cheap, closer to VeggieTales than an expensive Disney production. But that's because the movie was produced independently, for a budget far less than the $15 million reported in the media, according to one producer, and picked up for theatrical distribution by the nascent Weinstein Company. And really, the eye candy is a means to an end. It's good enough to support the story, which I found silly, engaging, and a lot of fun.
With a gags-per-minute ratio rivaling the Marx brothers, Hoodwinked dissects a familiar story, Rashomon-style, as the Wolf (Patrick Warburton), Granny (Glenn Close), Red (Anne Hathaway), and the Woodsman (Jim Belushi) each offer their side of an increasingly bizarre story, the pieces fitting together with inevitable, delightfully absurd cartoon logic.
It turns out the Wolf isn't such a bad guy, just an investigative reporter with a fondness for going undercover. With the help of his photographer, a neurotic squirrel named Twitchy (director Cory Edwards) who talks like one of the Chipmunks on methamphetamines, he's looking into the mystery of who has been stealing the recipes for sweets and candies from all the local goody shops. He suspects Granny, who is certainly hiding some surprising secrets from Red, who works for her as a delivery girl. As for the Woodsman, well, his side of the story, which involves logging mishaps and a catchy jingle about schnitzel, is too ludicrous to dare spoil.
While the concept isn't original (60 years ago, a radio comedian used the Red Riding Hood story to spoof the Dragnet formula), the movie has an inspired lunacy and frantic pace and crams in so many sight gags and asides, you can hardly catch your breath. Blissfully, it isn't all cheap pop-culture references—there are a lot of movie homages, but they all work on their own terms, like the long-legged amphibian detective named Nicky Flippers (David Ogden Stires), who is funny even if you've never seen one of the Thin Man movies (Asta even makes his CGI debut). And then there are characters that you've never seen anywhere, like the disgruntled, deceptively cute bunny rabbit (Andy Dick) and a slightly insane goat (Benjy Gaither) with Swiss Army horns who is under a curse and can't speak without singing (a circumstance explained, of course, in a catchy song). It's enough to make you forget the fact that Red is sort of a bore and Granny is an extreme sports nut (the one gag likely to seriously date the movie).
The animation pales in comparison to the latest from Pixar and Blue Sky, but the animators turn the low budget into an advantage—at times, the simplified backgrounds and doe-eyed characters recall classic stop-motion, and according to the audio commentary, the old Rankin-Bass specials were a visual touch point. Yet I find the comparatively crude animation doesn't matter. It works well enough because the story is fun, the characters are memorable, and most of the gags are fresh. Chicken Little may look loads better, but Hoodwinked has it where it counts, and independence gave the animators free reign to throw in every oddball gag and plot digression they could dream up.
Loaded with fast-paced wit and subversive humor (ever wonder what it's like to live in a musical when you aren't the one singing?) Hoodwinked entertains without ever turning sappy (the one emotional moment is undercut by a Ben Folds ballad with meaningless lyrics: "red is blue, I know that doesn't really make sense, but red is blue"). It doesn't have the heart of Finding Nemo or the digital sheen of Ice Age, but it proves that, these days, all you need to make a great animated movie is talent and creativity.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: The animation isn't Pixar-quality, and neither is the transfer—but it's close. Colors are bright and detail is generally good, though some scenes are a tad soft and darker moments are lacking in detail. If you look very closely, there's some visible grain and a few white marks, indication this transfer was taken from a print of the film rather than the digital files. Still, nothing much to complain about.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The DD 5.1 audio is pretty lively. Dialogue comes across clearly, the songs make use of all the channels, and the rears come to life during chase scenes and explosions, or just to offer a bit of enhancement as birds fly overhead.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Doogal
5 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by by writer/director Cory Edwards, co-writers/co-directors Tony Leech and Todd Edwards
Packaging: Keep Case
How to Make an Animated Movie is a 12-minute featurette that offers little of note to anyone who has explored one of Pixar's exhaustive two-disc sets. The producers and director discuss the animation process very briefly, and talk about how the movie changed along the way with the help of focus groups with neighborhood kids, who rightly found zany squirrels and singing goats amusing.
A collection of deleted and extended scenes offers mostly the latter: four songs are presented in slightly lengthened versions. What's interesting is, the cuts were made after the animation was complete—a rarity, for sure. One truly deleted scene, starring two chatty British bats, is presented in storyboard form.
There's also music video for the kid-friendly pop song Critters Have Feelings and the theatrical trailer. When the disc starts up, you're "treated" to the trailer for another upstart animated production, the rather dismal looking European import Doogal, purchased and redubbed by the Weinsteins.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsA furiously funny fractured fairy tale, Hoodwinked isn't state of the art, but it succeeds where some big budget, studio-animated efforts have failed—it's clever and fresh, with unique, memorable characters that don't feel like they were birthed from a focus group.
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