Thursday, May 18, 2006

Hoodwinked Isn't As Bad As You Think It Is

Ever since the first commercials and trailers came out for Hoodwinked, it's been a marked film. With its clearly low-budget CG animation, "modern" twist on a classic story, emphasis on dialogue, and all-star vocal cast, it seemed like an embodiment of all that is wrong with American feature animation. What may have been lost in all the griping was whether or not Hoodwinked was actually decent. After finally catching Hoodwinked on DVD, I realized that it didn't really deserve all the insults that were hurled at it.

Hoodwinked is a twist on the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Instead of a traditional retelling, we get one that shows multiple points of view. The movie begins with all the events we've come expect from every version of Little Red Riding Hood. Red (Anne Hathaway) goes to her grandmother's house and instead encounters The Wolf (Patrick Warburton) dressed up as Granny. Then, Granny (Glenn Close) is found to be tied up in the closet and The Woodsman (Jim Belushi) comes rushing in with an axe. After that brief retelling, we see the aftermath as the police show up. Chief Grizzly (Xzibit) immediately wants to arrest The Wolf but an investigator named Nicky Flippers (David Odgen Stiers) wants to get each person's side of the story. He interviews each of the main characters separately as we start to figure out the whole picture.

The mysterious Goody Bandit surrounds the story. The criminal is stealing recipes from goody shops and making proprietors go out of business. Each character's story has something to do with the Bandit. Red was going to Granny's to put her family's recipe book in a safe place. The Wolf is actually a reporter who was investigating the Bandit case. I won't spoil it for you but I bet that you'll figure out who it is pretty quickly.

The animation in Hoodwinked is not the best and the character designs can sometimes border on ugly (see the children in a sequence with The Woodsman). However, there are positives to be found. The low-budget look sets it apart from other films. The overall scenery may look less than realistic but it's appealing. Watching the movie on DVD, the colors really popped. Also, there are some cute supporting characters. I enjoyed Twitchy (director Cory Edwards), The Wolf's hyperactive squirrel partner, and Japeth (Benjy Gaither), a goat who sings everything he says. Each of these characters had scenes that cracked me up.

The strengths of Hoodwinked lie in its script, music, and voice acting. The Rashomon-lite storyline is timely given the current obsession with shows like CSI. Story elements that could have been very cliché (Granny's secret) are treated pretty well. There are also quite a few clever lines to be found. The voice acting is very well done. Reliable pros like Patrick Warburton and David Odgen Stiers are great while it's a wonder that Glenn Close hasn't done more voice work apart from Tarzan and Mother Simpson on The Simpsons. However, the biggest surprise is the music. The music in this film is actually original. The songs are fun and clever. I like that the songs are in the style of popular music instead of the Broadway style of traditional Disney musicals.

Hoodwinked is an enjoyable little animated film and better than you'd expect. Ideally, Hoodwinked could be the start of a trend of lesser-budgeted animated films. Let's be real…not every animated film has to be a classic. No one expects every live-action film to be Oscar-caliber. As an animation fan, what I want to see is variety. I think that there can be a place for both the high quality of a Pixar film and the quirky feel of an animated film with a smaller budget. One of the reasons why American animated films don't have the variety of anime films is because of all the money involved. Movies like Cars, Ice Age 2, and Over The Hedge are big investments. Studios will not want to invest in a quirky idea for an animated film if it costs $100 million to make it. However, if animated films can have the range of budgets that live action films have, then maybe there is a chance that these interesting ideas could get made. That would be something.

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