26 February 2006

Doogal [Just Arrived in Theaters, but Probably Not for Long]

I am afraid to go into the details of the movie, because even I was confused by the story, and I actually saw the movie! Here’s my best attempt at a summary:
Candy-junkie, dog hero Doogal, and a gang of random animals + a locomotive train embark on a quest for three magical diamonds that will free Doogal’s best friend, Florence from a frozen carousel and stop the evil plans of a villainous spring (yes, like the thing found in a mattress), Zeebad and his plan to freeze the sun. Filled with out-dated pop culture references, snappy characters, and an infuriatingly incompetent “hero”, Doogal is as crappy as you’d think it’d be.

I appreciate imagination and originality, but seriously, wizard springs (yes, the ones that go boing, boing. They’re like a jack-in-box without a box.) with magical facial hair, a convoluted story about magical diamonds that make everything right, and a romance between a snail & cow – that’s what I call crossing the line. The burden of every animation house (maybe with the exception of Pixar) is to distinguish themselves from the incomparable force that is Pixar, so you know that the folks at the Weinstein Company were like, forget artistry and detail; forget a tight story line or an effective use of voice talent; forget thoughtful themes that will stick with children for years to come. We’re going to settle for Veggie Tales caliber animation and a story ridden with plot holes, so that we can focus all our efforts (i.e., money) to getting a really cool cast! Once we get a talented cast, the movie will write itself.

You must be wondering, Anna what on earth were you thinking!?! Seriously, how could you expect any more than crap? Here’s my rationale:

1) His name is Doogal!
2) Look at him.
3) The trailer.
4) John Stewart
5) Jimmy Fallon.
6) William H. Macy.
7) Judi Dench [She won an Oscar. Was I so wrong in thinking that Oscar winners no longer take on crappy movies?].
8) Come on, the movie is called Doogal. How cute is that?
9) My sister also wanted to see the movie.

If you put the inanely complex plot aside, the next most tragic element was, I’m saddened to say, my beloved Doogal. Voiced by the kid from Elf (Daniel Tay), Doogal is the worst hero or lead one could hope for. First of all, he’s the very one that accidentally releases the villainous Zeebad and necessitates this arduous quest in the first place! Secondly, he’s so one-track minded. That dog cannot think when candy is involved. He will do anything for candy, even if it puts his friends in danger. With so much attention to Doogal’s troublesome love for candy, you would think that this movie is a tale about the dangers of “candy” addiction, but at the end of the film, Doogal’s owner, Florence, rewards him with a piece of candy! Movie heroes, even if they’re tragically flawed, manage to go through some sort of character arc. Not Doogal. He ends up as incompetent and selfish as he was at the start of the film. To top it all of, Doogal is physically incapable of doing anything other than scuttle across the floor, eat candy, fetch, or lick people in the face. I don’t care how cute your name is; heroes must serve some purpose, and ideally, save the day!

Aside from the moments where we cracked up at the sheer ridiculousness of the film, there were actual moments of pure hilarity, due in large part to the charms of the voice talent. Jimmy Fallon voices Dylan, a stoner, hippy bunny that is taller than a cow. Whoopi Goldberg voices said cow, Ermintrude with the attitude and snappiness required of all comedic black actresses. Sweet William H. Macy voices sweet Brian, a snail madly in love with Ermintrude (yes, the COW). Chevy Chase voices the train, which I did not realize could speak until half way through the film. Ian McKellan does what he can now do in his sleep as the good wizard spring, Zebedee. John Stewart is stand out funny (although that’s not saying much) as arch nemesis spring, Zeebad, while Bill Hader (yeah, I don’t know who that is either) plays Zeebad’s adorable henchman, Soldier Sam. Kylie Minogue plays Florence, Doogal’s “best friend”, but she remains frozen throughout most of the film, so it’s rather difficult to mess that part up. To top it all of, that classy dame, Judi Dench narrates. Kevin Smith also proves to be one of the top performers as an internal dialoguing Moose, whose character is actually quite unnecessary. He kind of just appears than disappears for no apparent reason.

One could argue that Doogal was intended for a much younger audience (i.e., people with less discriminating taste), but then how do you explain all the outdated references to the Lord of the Rings, Matrix, Indian Jones, and Harry Potter, or the sexual tension between Ermintrude and Brian? The filmmakers clearly had an adult audience in mind. My only other explanation for the crappiness of the film is that it was produced by half of the free world. The opening credits take about 30 minutes as it displays all the different parties involved in the making of this film. It was apparently a collaboration of UK, French, and U.S. filmmakers. I’m going to blame the crappy magical diamond storyline on the French. I’ll give props to the U.K. leg for wrangling in Dench. The unappealing animation and strange character choices go to Europe in general. The U.S. takes the fall for producing a deceivingly entertaining trailer, the hip pop culture references that are so not hip anymore, and everything else that is wrong with the film.

I think I am especially disappointed by Doogal because it’s the start of an exciting season of CG animation films (Cars, Open Season, Happy Feet, Ice Age II, The Wild, And Bully, and Over the Hedge). This just means that animated films are off to a rough start, and based on the Cars trailer, I don’t think it’s going to get any better.

Doogal, ala Pixar, is preceded by an animated short about a stupid, obese gopher who tries to steal food from delivery trucks to no avail. In addition to sense of frustration, the short leaves you with a horrifying image of a fat gopher stuck to the rear end of an even fatter cow.

My recommend: Obviously, don’t see it. I do, however, recommend the trailer. Cyndi is quite sad that she had to waste her movie gift certificate on Doogal. I guess this makes us even after Into the Blue. ;)

One of the positives that came out of this movie going experience was the pre-movie show. In the past, you were forced to watch a Sprite bottle race a Dr. Pepper bottle or contemplate what the wooden box used to raise up camera equipment is called (apple box!). Now days, movie theaters (at least the AMC theaters) have created the “First Look” series. Essentially it’s a promotional piece for soon to be released movies guised as a behind the scenes special that doesn’t really tell you anything. My “first look” was a featurette on Walking the Line. I was not impressed. The “first look” preceding Doogal, on the other hand, was much more entertaining. It featured a short clip from a new Cartoon Network show called My Gym Partner’s a Monkey (and a “look” at the new Robin Williams flick, RV). Even if evil marketing execs are using this first look to manipulate a captive young audience through the use of cartoon shorts, I’m quite happy to watch cartoons while I wait for my crappy movie to start. I much rather be exploited by the Cartoon Network than have to watch Coca-Cola sponsored movie trivia interspersed with ads for Bryman College.

Doogal gets a F+, but the “First Look” before Doogal gets a B.

08 February 2006

He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special

Intergalactic twin super heroes, He-Man and She-Ra must save two really annoying earth children from the grinch of their galaxy, Horde Prime. Meanwhile, all the children care about is the fact that they’re missing Christmas.

Though my memories of He-Man & She-Ra are vague, both shows still hold a special place in my heart. I can’t claim to be a die hard fan, but I enjoyed He-Man because of its evil villain, Skeletor, who was like Gargemel, but slightly more menacing. I, however, adored the spin-off series, She-Ra. I liked She-Ra because she was like Barbie, only she did something with her life. Plus, She-Ra also had really cool friends, like the mermaid lady, and the woman who could turn everything into flowers and rainbows. She-Ra also had killer boots and pretty hair. I really appreciated how the show refrained from stereotyping the likes and interests of little girls.

With that said, I’m quite disappointed to report that He-Man & She-Ra are not as cool as I remember. Now, before I launch into my scathing review of the He-Man & She-Ra Christmas Special, I have to give much respect to my M.A. advisor, Prof. Don Roberts, the educational and psychological consultant for the He-Man series. Prof. Roberts helped bring pro-social messaging to Saturday morning cartoons. Thus, as I make fun of the Christmas special, I must note that this great classic was designed for a much younger audience, not snotty little twenty-somethings.

In an effort to refrain from overly religious themes, the Christmas Special emphasizes Christmas as the season of giving – the giving of presents that is. Unfortunately, thanks to the blundering of He-Man’s sidekick, Orko, two Earth children are accidentally transported back to Eternia, causing them to miss the joyous holiday of gift-giving. Let’s just say that the special gets off to a rough start.

One of the reasons I found the opening so disappointing was Orko. I forgot about Orko, not to mention how ANNOYING he is! I hate bumbling sidekicks. Why do superheroes always have to hang out with annoying sidekicks? You’re a superhero! You CAN get cooler friends. Furthermore, Orko had to pick up the craziest kids on Earth, brother & sister pair, Manuel & Alicia. Firstly, Orko found these kids hanging out in the frozen tundra unsupervised. What kind of children go out looking for a Christmas tree in the middle of the Arctic? Crazy kids, that’s what kind. Secondly, these kids were unfazed by Orko (Admit it, if it weren’t for his dorky voice, he’d look pretty scary) or the fact that he transported them across the universe to another planet! To top off their creepiness, the kids were very Earth-centric. When Orko innocently asks the children what “Christmas” is, the children were like, “Duh! You don’t know what Christmas is…” Jerks. Then, when the kids find out they may be stranded on Eternia, they were like, “Does hat mean we’re going to miss Christmas [and not get my new He-Man action figure]? Wah. Wah. Wah Wah.” Jeez, get your priorities in order.

Despite how creepy these kids are, Horde Prime sets his sights on them for reasons I don’t quite understand. According to IMDB, Horde Prime was drawn to their “overflowing goodwill.” Yeah, I guess I missed that part. So, Horde Prime dispenses all his goons, including my boy Skeletor, to hunt down these crazy kids. It’s at this moment that I realize why guys today are so obsessed with working out. It’s the He-Man complex. He-Man is obviously buff, and Skeletor is definitely no slouch. Bad Gator guy? Ripped. Evil guy with two heads? Ripped. Spikey head guy? Ripped. Note to guys: Abandon these unrealistic images of the ideal male form. You will never look like He-Man. Also, why would you even want to look like He-Man? He’s, you know… I mean, just look at him.

Even creepier than the kids, was She-Ra’s horse, Swifty. I didn’t realize Swifty even spoke until the Christmas Special. I definitely never imagined such a gruff, man voice. Swifty’s like a cross between Danny DeVito and a My Little Pony. Second in odd voice casting was Cutter, the Deadly Robot, voiced by Wallace Shawn. Okay, he really wasn’t voiced by Wallace Shawn, but he sure did sound like him.

Overall, the film was quite disappointing. I guess that’s what happens when you watch A Christmas Special in 2006 instead of 1985. I was especially looking forward to all the cameos by the friends of He-Man & She-Ra, but most of the screen time was sucked up by Alicia, Miguel, & Orko. Argh! The story was excruciatingly cheesy and there was little action. Perhaps my expectations were simply too high. Over 15 years of nostalgic affection for He-Man & She-Ra ruined my viewing experience. OR, maybe Alicia & Manuel really were THAT annoying. They are timelessly annoying, if you will.

As much as it pains me, I have to say that this rental was NOT WORTH IT. Preserve the halcyon days of yore. Don’t ruin those golden childhood memories with the cynicism of adulthood. With that said, I can’t wait to see Jem on DVD!